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The latest research shows consumers will reward businesses that make data stewardship a core value

Finding issues that everyone can agree on can be tough. Ask a roomful of people if they highly value diversity and inclusion, and only half of them will raise their hands. Ask them if they care strongly about the environment, and just 55% will agree that they do. 

Ask about data privacy, however, and you’ll find far more agreement. According to a new study by MAGNA Media Trials and Ketch, a remarkable 74% of people now rank data privacy as one of their top values. Across every age group, consumers consistently rank data privacy as their top concern — it is more highly valued than equality, sustainability, or any other ethical issue.

That degree of consensus is almost unheard of in current opinion polling. It’s a sign that data privacy truly matters to today’s consumers — and that companies need to take privacy seriously not just because it’s a legal requirement, but because it’s a core value for their customers.

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Regulatory compliance isn’t enough to win over consumers. In fact, consumers have little interest in the regulatory fine print: According to the survey, over three-quarters of people have never heard of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), while 9 out of 10 people haven’t the foggiest idea what the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (VCDPA) is. 

Consumers do, however, notice if regulators call your company out for failing to abide by the rules. Regulatory compliance is table stakes: It can be the starting point for your business, but nowhere near enough to convince consumers that your organization can be trusted to take care of their data.

So what can businesses do to win customers’ trust? The key is to look beyond compliance, and find ways to communicate transparently, give consumers meaningful and ongoing control over their data, and make data stewardship a core part of your brand.

Three key takeaways from the study:

1. People are concerned about how businesses handle data

Most consumers feel that organizations aren’t currently doing enough to keep their data safe. More than four-fifths of consumers worry about how their data is used, and just 5% have no major concerns about the way organizations use their data. 

Troublingly, 6 out of 10 consumers believe that companies routinely misuse their data, and only 21% of consumers are confident that their data is only used for proper purposes. In other words, it isn’t just that consumers think companies are careless. They think businesses are actively breaking the promises they make when they collect data.

These suspicions speak to consumers’ feelings of powerlessness. Almost 6 out of 10 consumers say they don’t know where their data goes once it’s shared, and two-thirds feel they have little control over how their data is used. From there, it’s a short step to eroding trust.

2. People understand the value of sharing data with businesses 

While consumers care deeply about privacy, they are also willing and even eager to share their data. Sound counterintuitive? The reality is that consumers understand that by consenting to their data’s use, they get access to things they care about — from more powerful products, to personalized online experiences. 

In fact, more than four-fifths of consumers think they benefit from sharing their data — and tellingly, they don’t want companies to collect less data. What people want, instead, is for companies to be diligent about protecting the data they share, and transparent about what’s being collected and why. They also want meaningful opportunities to opt out of data collection, or to change their mind and revoke consent after data has been collected.

The bottom line? Consumers see data-sharing as an exchange of value. They want to remain firmly in control of that exchange — but if you give them the security and agency they want, they’ll give you the data you need.

3. Responsible data practices drive top-line growth  

Consumers are willing to reward organizations that get this right. Almost 9 out of 10 customers say strong data privacy practices would positively impact their relationship with a company, and one-third would tell their friends about companies with strong privacy standards.

Data stewardship directly benefits revenue. Almost a quarter of consumers say they’d be more likely to purchase from a company that takes data privacy seriously, and 15% would pay more for those products or services. 

That’s about half as many as are willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly products. Consider the scale of green marketing efforts and the relative paucity of consumer-facing messaging around data stewardship, though, and it’s clear that there’s plenty of scope for stronger privacy practices to boost revenues for businesses. 

Respect people’s data dignity, and you’ll be rewarded for it

Brands pour huge amounts of time, energy, and money into areas such as sustainable marketing, diversity programs, and ethical hiring practices. They do so not just because these issues matter in absolute terms, but because they perceive these issues as mattering to their customers, and they want to align themselves with their customers’ values.

The Magna/Ketch study shows that effective data stewardship should be high on companies’ list of priorities. Your customers are speaking loud and clear, and they are saying that they care about how their data is handled — and that they’re ready to reward companies that share their values and protect their privacy. 

Consumers will reward brands that have responsible data practices, with 23% more purchase intent in the US and 28% in the UK 

But what does it mean to have responsible data practices? As a start — proactively deleting data when it’s no longer needed, and offering customers meaningful visibility into what you’re doing with data, and why you’re collecting it. 

Companies that fail to embrace their roles as custodians of people’s data will increasingly find that their customers simply opt out, or do business with other, more ethical businesses instead. 

Bad privacy practices aren’t just bad for consumers. They’re bad for business. To keep data flowing and enable innovation and growth in the new data economy, businesses need to step up and find privacy solutions that go beyond regulatory compliance. It’s time to treat privacy as a key strategic priority — and find new ways to deliver the engaged, transparent, and robust data stewardship that consumers now crave.

Jonathan Joseph is head of solutions and marketing at Ketch 

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