Developing A Privacy Policy

Let the buyer beware.

Here’s we go with one last discussion about online privacy, before we get back to precision marketing methods and technologies. This week, I wanted to shed light on privacy policies and statements, and on the methods you can use to educate your customers about privacy.

Most people shy away from no-name web companies, and they don’t trust sites that don’t get right out in front and vigorously protect their security and privacy. Of course, the ultimate goal is to decrease customers’ fear over providing personal information, in order to encourage their participation in your one-to-one web marketing efforts.

Better Safe than Sorry

Make your customers feel safe and secure by establishing privacy policies and displaying them prominently on your web site. Make your privacy statement available from your home page, and also make it accessible from any page within your site — especially at the point where the user will be handing over information. The obvious choices are the registration page or the beginning of an order-entry page.

What sort of information should your privacy policy include? There are various scenarios:

  • A vow to never provide customer information to a third party.
  • A choice (offered to the customer) to prevent the web site from giving his or her name to a third party.
  • A choice of giving (or not giving) the web site permission to provide an individual’s information to relevant and reputable companies.

So, privacy policies are not hard and fast. What it comes down to is twofold: What information the site wants to collect and what the site wants to do with that information, and how much control a customer wants to maintain over his or her own personal information.

Not sure which policy to adopt? Here are some resources for privacy practices and statements:

Bragging Rights

It is not enough to have a privacy policy and/or a safe shopping guarantee on your web site. In fact, if you have a privacy policy and a secure system for collecting data or receiving orders, then you have bragging rights. These features can make your web site far more attractive to customers than other sites.

So make your privacy policy readily available. Also, use plain language (avoiding all that legalese) to convey this information. Doing so will enable customers to quickly understand how you collect and use their personal information.

Amazon.com’s privacy statement is a good model because it presents the policy in easy-to-understand language. Amazon uses a question and answer format that makes it personable and readable, and it is fully and clearly accessible from the bottom of their home page. (I’d offer up extra points here if Amazon made it available on all web pages.) Amazon gives the customer the choice to restrict the bookseller from selling or distributing his or her personal information to a third party.

Other important points to convey to the user are the specific benefits and services they will receive when they provide personal, preference and interest information. For example, look at CDnow.com, which has created a special service called My CDnow.

Essentially, CDnow dedicated a page to communicating the benefits of its personalized services. It allows a user to register as a guest, or lets them see a demo of the one-to-one web marketing features on the site so he or she can see the services in action. Users can then evaluate whether or not the service is of value to them.

Web sites that require a user to register using personal information, without letting the user try it out first, will irritate (and probably scare away) many customers. Some of the benefits that you could convey include:

  • Choice. Web services based on online profiling give users the choice of creating a web page, or of receiving information or advertising that is according to their own declared preferences or interests. When designing your online profiling methods, consider letting customers have more control over their profile. Don’t just let them build it let them also modify it. Or, let them maintain multiple profiles. For example, I buy both business and leisure books from Amazon.com, so you can imagine that its recommendations to me are mixed. I would love it if Amazon.com allowed me to set up two profiles.
  • Time savings. Let your customers know that you will save them time. If they build their own profile, your web site can save them time when they are searching for products, services or information that matches their unique needs.
  • Personalized service. Your customers want to know that you are meeting their unique needs instead of pushing products or services that are not of interest to them. Let them know you are looking out for their best interests literally.

Next Week: Delving deeper into online profiling and precision marketing.

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