Courting Customer Disclosure

Marketing depends more and more on customer data while customers are more and more leery about their privacy. This can be a customer vs. company conflict or, by applying a healthy dose of customer-centricity, it can be a well-planned, well-organized wooing process. Done well, both parties end up better off. The company knows more about customers and can segment and target more accurately and the customer finds company communications are more relevant.

The trick is to entice and persuade rather than block and demand. That requires ceding control of the process to them. Scary yes, but necessary.

Giving control to customers (or prospects or website visitors) is always the right move. It places the responsibility on you, the marketer, to offer a proper balance of value for what the customer is willing to provide in the way of personal data.

This is a relationship and relationships do not happen all at once. So here is the process, starting at ground zero: the website visitor as a cipher:

Level 0 – Cloaking device engaged

The surfer has all of their shields at high alert. Cookies are turned off, pop-ups are clocked, IP address is concealed – they want to be anonymous. In exchange for nothing at all, marketers should be willing to let these nonentities peruse all of their advertising and marketing materials. These are window shoppers and they should not be accosted in any way. Let them browse. But that’s all. This sort of Internet interaction is “stateless,” which means once the page has been served, there is no memory of the exchange.

Level 1 – Cloaking turned off – cookies enabled – JavaScript tags accepted

Using cookies, the marketer can engage in some stateful interactions. The visitor can configure products, view stock-on-hand, and drop things into a shopping cart. These are now technically possible, but you, the marketer, might want to acknowledge this level of trust by allowing access to the latest white papers or your resource directory.

Level 2 – E-mail address

We’ve just tripped over into personally identifiable information (PII) and that means there better be something worthwhile on the table. The typical example is a newsletter – but there must be serious value in your newsletter because we all get too many already. Perhaps you sweeten the deal with access to your white paper archive, or allow them to comment on your blogs. You should certainly promise notification of special deals and webinars.

Level 3 – Postal address and preferences

This is a larger hurdle than you might imagine. Prospects know they can unsubscribe from your newsletter if it isn’t up to snuff. But once a postal address is revealed, the junk mail might never end, the address might be sold or shared, and it can be used to look up a phone number. For the relationship to advance to that level, there better be Members Only discounts, special event invitations, access to local call centers, and some very informative webinars on offer.

Level 4 – Answer surveys, participate in advisory council

Now, we’re getting personal. Not only are you asking them to identify themselves but to tell you what they are looking to buy, how much they are willing to spend, and their time-frame for the purchase. You’re asking them to trust you to help them work their way through the decision-making process. For that, it’s time to bring out the silver platter laden with negotiated pricing contracts and fully-catered client conferences in Aruba.

Level 5 – Reveal most intimate personal details and predilections

Either a marriage proposal or a job offer. Yes, we’ve reached that stage in our relationship.

Level 6 – Vulcan mind-meld

Resistance is futile.

Always keep in mind that some personal information is worth more than others. What books you like to read and your shoe size are small potatoes in exchange for a 15 percent discount coupon and free shipping. But your level of education, household income, and the make, model, and age of all the vehicles in your garage better be offset by Lamborghini bringing a Sesto Elemento to your door for a personal test drive.

Worried about the coming quarrel about online privacy? Offer something of value in exchange – now it’s just a negotiation.

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