It’s been a tough year for tech. From the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal to concerns around Venmo’s creepy public transaction history to accidents caused by self-driving cars and the way stalker ads now chase us across the web, it’s increasingly hard not to feel that we’re at the mercy of an army of unfeeling machines exploiting us for commercial gain. And as the #DeleteFacebook movement illustrates, consumers who feel exploited by tech are willing and able to jump ship.
For companies in this space–or for those that rely on marketing tech to reach customers (i.e., almost all companies)–this poses a dilemma. As CEO of a video platform for businesses, I’ve seen this firsthand. Consumers are hungry for the convenience technology affords, but concerned about the privacy trade-off. Tech can boost sales, but it can also alienate and irritate in equal measures. So where do we draw the line? How do we use tech the right way?
Here are a few steps businesses can take to make the value of tech, and the trade-off it requires, more clear to their customers.
Make transparency the new standard
I was recently changing the settings on my Google Maps app and happened to discover that it had recorded my every move–for the last five years. I’m not exaggerating. See for yourself by going to the app and checking out the Your Timeline feature. If location services have been set to “Always on,” you should be able to trawl back through all the places you’ve visited.
By now, most of us know our personal data is being collected and used almost continuously, but exactly what info, by whom, and for what purpose is rarely clear. Many companies go out of their way to hide this exchange in page after page of legalese, or deep within program settings. With mistrust of tech at an all-time high, companies that want to combat the creep factor need to first and foremost be upfront about what they’re asking for–and make clear what customers are getting in return.
I’d happily have agreed to giving up my whereabouts had it been made abundantly clear from the outset how that info would be used to help me avoid busy times at restaurants, detour around traffic jams, and remember where I parked my car. But for the life of me, I don’t recall being asked that, at least not in a way that was clear and understandable.
New legislation like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has begun compelling companies to get express consent from customers before collecting their data. But the next step in regaining consumer trust is in simplifying those agreements, so people feel they’re being allowed to make a conscious choice to exchange one valuable asset (personal information) for another.
Automate the insufferable
One thing we all need more of is time. In my experience, consumers are happy to share data in exchange for technology that actually spares them from mundane, tedious, and soul-sucking tasks. But not every marketing tool fits that bill.
Too many companies miss the point of bots and other artificial intelligence. Particularly in a corporate context, tech shouldn’t be deployed to try to replicate human interaction. As tempting as this is from a cost-cutting perspective, it rarely pays off. (Case in point: the backlash over Google’s hyper-realistic voice bots that tricked callers into thinking they were talking to a real person.) Instead, effective technology liberates humans to be more human: automating the boring stuff to give us more time to be creative, build empathy, and forge a connection.
Take, for example, Kiite, a digital sales platform that pulls product information and past customer purchases from multiple sources and compiles them into an easy reference document for sales associates. That means reps can spend more time answering questions and making recommendations, and less time hunting for the answers or tracking down customer histories. Tools like these don’t seek to replace human connection, but to free up more time for the real thing, and that’s a critical distinction.
Ensure personalization is actually personalized
“Personalized marketing” sounds like a good idea. (Don’t show me ads for diapers if I don’t have kids; show me ads for stuff I actually need right now.) But, in practice, personalized has come to mean those annoyingly sticky ads that follow you across the internet because you happened to click on a pair of shoes. Even worse, personalized recommendations tend to regurgitate products you’ve literally just purchased. When that’s the standard, it’s no wonder so many people have come to regard personalization as a meaningless buzzword.
Getting real value out of targeted marketing means actually delivering contextual recommendations that are needed and relevant. We’re used to this already, from the way Netflix and Spotify suggest stuff we actually want to watch or listen to. In a marketing context, the Home Depot app uses location data to recommend regional design trends based on where customers actually live, then provides real-time directions to help them navigate the aisles while in-store. Meanwhile, Goat, the online marketplace for sneakers, lets customers know when shoes on their wish list have dropped or are on sale within a pre-approved price limit.
Nobody is disappointed to get an ad for something they really need, or a helpful reminder or suggestion. Relevance is everything, and here technology can help.
In today’s consumer climate, trust and reputation are powerful differentiators. It’s not enough for companies to settle for a standard where people begrudgingly accept technology as a necessary evil in exchange for convenience. Done right, tech gives far more than it takes–on terms we all know and understand.