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Do unto others’ data…

Who isn’t concerned with the threat of spam and distraction that can result from a branded online interaction?

And even though there are those among us that would lie on a bed of nails before opting into a brand’s email program – the truth of the matter is that research shows time and again that consumers want to interact with brands.

I see this proven by the volume we see going through the branded interactions monitored at Draftfcb every day. People come, they stay and sometimes they even come back.

In this post I want to talk about responsibility and respect. The responsibility we have as advertisers to collect data from our consumers in the least intrusive, most transparent way possible.  Respect for the part of a consumer’s life that we touch.

What are the reasons for brands to collect consumer information in the first place?

Eligibility Verification: When designing promotions, contests, and couponing efforts, brands need to collect some level of information in order to evaluate the eligibility of an entrant. This is most often used to validate location availability, age restrictions, entry-abusers and of course to keep out the bots.

Enabling Future Contact: When establishing a service, a brand needs to collect contact information to create a connection via the appropriate channel(s). Today this is often only email, but it is still common for brands to collect name, address and/or phone number.

Better Targeting: When creating branded content for any channel, the more you know about your demographic – the closer in you can get them to lean. Capturing data, such as usage, from the people using branded digital properties is a great way to get to know an audience better over time. It can also be the data that changes the game – since this level of data insight when gathered over-time can show a detail about the audience that you weren’t aware of (or couldn’t prove) prior.

How do we get what we need from consumers without interfering or reaching too far that they back away?

I believe that the best way for advertisers to look at data collection is as a currency. When users want something from a brand, they are willing to pay for that thing/service/opportunity with their personal information. Those of us that work in advertising need to realize that this is a powerful model where the balance is far from equal.

Simple Truth, hard for some to hear: Branded interactions need consumers; consumers do not need branded interactions.

And to make straits even direr, consumers know what they are looking for in a quality data transaction online and they are willing to leave if they don’t get it:

64 percent of Americans said they have not made an online purchase from a specific website because of security concerns. When asked to explain why they did not make that purchase, 60 percent said it was because they were not sure if the site was secure, 51.4 percent were worried about providing information requested, and 48.4 percent felt a website requested more information than was necessary for the transaction. Respondents were given the option to pick more than one reason. (via survey conducted by Stay Safe Online)

Where to start if this is less “Hallelujah!” and more “Holy Crap!”

Look at form elements against your communication plan: Are you really planning to mail things out to people ever again? Do you really see future reason to call them at home? Most brands are minimizing the amount of mail and outbound calls being used to interact with consumers yet these same brands seldom check to make sure they aren’t asking for data they will never really need. If every field that we ask to be completed raises the “price” of the transaction in a user’s mind, we must choose wisely.

Learn quickly that tricking people into liking you never works: You may acquire the opt-in from said “consumer friend” but what is the quality of that connection when it is based on lies and a tormenting experience? Maybe I am naïve, but I tend to only see shades of dark patterns being used when a team has forgotten a fundamental rule of advertising: Make it Matter. Sometimes I will admit that it seems easier to trick the consumer than to convince the client to have an interaction worthy of honest data collection – but you must forge ahead. The database is only as good as the people in it right now. Keeping them opted in is, in almost all cases, far more important than collecting them in the first place. Once people realize how they have been tricked by your brand, it isn’t a far stretch to say that your chances of future positive interaction are lessened.

Make it easy and don’t be picky: All it takes in a branded interaction to lose someone is one failed form submit. We all know that moment when we hit the big shiny submit button prideful of our addition to the black box of brand X and then “Wait error?! …WTF that isn’t really even an error — just the system being picky.” Your Password needs to have 6 characters and contain a capital letter, your address isn’t recognized by the post office the way you entered it, and your username cannot contain special characters. Stop your form whining and think about the data you are collecting. What stipulation does each element really need to adhere to in order for your marketing business to run? Furthermore, what do users expect from this context? We can all agree that the post office example is only frustrating when used on a form where you aren’t sure anything will be mailed/delivered. We can likely also agree that the password being super prescriptive is appropriate and expected on banking systems. But, that same prescriptive attitude applied to a one time video upload contest tends to seem heavy handed.

Pay attention to the world of regulation and data security: The following topics are worth a gander as we work to better understand user data as it relates to the advertising world online:

  • Behavioral Advertising Compliance Efforts: Consumer unrest is growing about data tracking with the increased use of highly targeted ad placement. The interactive advertising bureau estimates that 70-80% of all online advertising could be subject to government regulation if self-regulation fails. There are some amazing organizations doing a wonderful job at educating consumers, but when half the advertising world doesn’t even understand the concept, it fails to permeate our world. Educate yourself. (Good starting point: The Privacy Campaign)
  • CAN-SPAM Act: Allows users to request that any brand stop emailing them content. Also in this body of legislation are stipulations against deceiving consumers into opening and/or acting on an email. (Good starting point: CAN-SPAMM for Businesses)
  • COPPA Act: Establishes rules for sites knowingly collecting data from children under the age of 13. Under this legislation, brands must provide a public notice on their site indicating what data they collect, how it is used, and whether it is shared with third parties. The site must also get parental consent before collecting any information. (Good starting point: COPPA)

Thanks for reading.

This post is the 2nd of a series: UX Rules for Advertising Agencies.