Study: Ad Relevance Key to Building Consumer Trust

  |  January 10, 2005   |  Comments

The more control Internet users have over the advertising experience, the more willing they are to volunteer even sensitive information.

Opt-in online marketing campaigns could be one of the more effective ways to build trust with Internet users and obtain personal information from them, according to a survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute and interactive ad firm Dotomi.

"Basically, we decided to study the significance of online permission for Internet marketing," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. "If you look at the universe of privacy, it hinges on the consumer's ability to communicate preference on what is sent to him or her."

The so-called "Online Permissions Survey," sponsored by Dotomi, was based on responses from a statistically representative group of 1,799 Internet-using adults in all major regions of the U.S. Researchers sent respondents two sample scenarios, both offering the choice whether or not to allow an online merchant to share information about them with third party marketers: The first scenario involved a merchant the customer had been buying from for two years. The second was with an online merchant the consumer was unfamiliar with, but interested in buying from. In both cases, the study found that the one that offered opt-in restrictions on data sharing and frequency of contact resulted in higher levels of participation.

"What we found is consumers are willing to provide more information about themselves, even sensitive information like bank account numbers, reading preferences, and social security numbers, with organizations that make a point to honor their privacy," Ponemon said. "The results suggest that consumers seek quality over quantity in the ads they receive, and merchants would be wise to target campaigns to each consumer as individually as possible."

Among the study's findings were that: 84 percent of consumers want control over the types and frequency of Internet ads sent from a specific merchant; and roughly 64 percent said they would trust an online marketer more if they had control of the online communications sent to them.

"What this tells us is Internet users want to rule their online experience, not just in terms of what is communicated to them, but how they are spoken to," said John Federman, president and CEO of Dotomi. "They really want respectful communications."

About 89 percent of respondents expressed willingness to let a trusted marketer share their personal interests with a third party without permission, to increase the relevance of the products and services offered to them online.

The study also found that consumer willingness to be contacted directly by merchants is strongly influenced by buying incentives: 82 percent of respondents wanted to be notified if they are provided a price discount or a free offer. Approximately 92 percent said they would like to be notified if a product or a promotion would be of value to them based on their past buying habits.

"The Internet user appears basically to be saying three things, 'Respect my time, respect my privacy, and respect my user experience,'" Federman said.

The Ponemon/Dotomi study complements a recent study conducted by ReleMail, which found that Internet users were more likely to subscribe to email newsletters through organizations that took pains to demonstrate trustworthiness. In the case of that study, 72 percent of Internet users said they would be more likely to subscribe to a newsletter from a company that had been certified by a third party certificate vouchsafing good email practices.

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