Originally published at AW360.

A well-oiled brand should do three things:

  1. Ask consumers for feedback on the products they purchase, and the experience given to them.
  2. Spread the name of your business so it’s easily recognizable to the average consumer
  3. Make your brand name one that consumers associate with trustworthiness

Failing to inspire faith in your brand with consumers can sink your entire operation. The trust between a company and its customer base isn’t built overnight. Consumers need proof of dependability before they commit to brand loyalty. As innovations in technology make private information increasingly public, the struggle to gain consumer trust has found a new battleground: Personal data use. While customers seek out personalized commerce experiences and are willing to share their data to that end, there are growing concerns regarding how brands are using it.

Customers who share data with brands are seeking something in return. However, for the brands themselves they are asking… Do we have too much data and not enough understanding?

This was a recent article I wrote about InfoObesity and how brands are gorging on so much data and information that we don’t know what to do with it all. On the other side, more data means more risk in terms of GDPR and data privacy.

You only have to think about recent breaches including Marriot being fined over 100 million pounds. So this is now a big and real deal for brands.

Once broken, trust is a trial to rebuild. It only takes one bad experience for a consumer to drop your brand forever.

So, the question: in a market where they seek both personalized shopping experience, as well as a real measure of privacy, how do you get customers to trust your data use?

Be Transparent—And Flexible

Given the growing concerns about personal data use, just having a privacy policy page statement is no longer enough. It should be the first thing they see when they go to your website. From the moment they land on any of the webpages owned by your brand, customers should have a clear idea of exactly what data you’re collecting through their use of your site, as well as the ability to consent (or not) to it.

Consumers should also have an option to adjust their privacy settings. If your website has an option for ecommerce—and therefore an option to create an account—there’s no excuse to not have these options accessible under account settings. The good news is that, with the exception of social media sites, most consumers aren’t going to go out of their way to change those settings, and you should be free to collect all the data you need.  Still, having the option available shows your commitment to protecting consumers’ data and being worthy of their trust.

Drive The Message Home

User-friendly privacy policies and terms and conditions are great places to start building trust with your consumers, but you need to take it a step further. If having a data use policy that protects your consumers is a priority for you, they should know the measures you’re taking to ensure they have a positive shopping experience with your brand.

Make a transparent privacy policy a cornerstone of every online communication you have with your customers. Sending a newsletter?  Include the policy statement.  Sharing a special deal on social media? You know what to do. The more you emphasize how important it is to you that you use consumer data in an ethical way, the less reluctant your customers will be in sharing that information with you.

Focus On The Pros

The comments surrounding the collection and use of consumer data is mostly focused on the negative outcomes of when that data is misused, however, I actually think that many of your customers may not be aware of how sharing their information can enhance their shopping experience.  When you collect their data, let them know that it’s being used to make their time on your website better.

Whether it’s to send them deals targeting their specific interests, or rewards based on their personal data such as special birthday gifts, offers on Mothers and Father’s Day, focusing on the benefits of sharing more of their personal data will incentivize your consumers to do so. If you ever have the chance to frame the narrative about how you use data into something positive, you can use those opportunities to build your brand’s reputation and the trust your customer base has in it.

Always Ask For Feedback

Just as it takes time to build trust, maintaining that trust requires work and energy. Keeping that positive relationship between brand and customer alive is a continuous and never-ending process. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. No one knows better what consumers want from a brand than the consumers themselves—and, hey, seeking that feedback offers you yet another way of collecting consumer data in a way that is not only ethical but also makes the customer feel good and heard.

You can never be 100 percent sure that your customers trust you but asking for their input is a pretty reliable way to get a good idea of how they view your brand.  In the meantime, getting customers to trust your data use should be a known priority in every element of your business, from the CEO down to the customer clicking “proceed to check out.”