Friday, 31 July 2009

Psst - reassure customers – just don’t tell them

ww11-secret

In a recent study carried out by Carnegie Mellon University (entitled The Best of Strangers: Context Dependent Willingness to Divulge Personal Information) there was an interesting finding which essentially demonstrated that people are less likely to reveal personal information where they are made aware of the requestors privacy policy.

In one of the experiments within the study, subjects were asked if they had “cheated on an exam”. Only 8% of respondents said yes where they have been made aware of privacy assurances – telling them their responses would be kept confidential - whereas this rose more than 4 fold to over 35% for those that hadn’t.

People provide less personal information when reassured that it will be protected – an effect known as “privacy saliency”

This actually has some key relevance to marketing programmes, especially those such as loyalty programmes which collect and retain both demographic information as well as behavioural. Many programmes look to reassure customers that any data provided will be kept confidential, but this research would seem to suggest that in doing this too obviously, it may actually be suppressing results.

Another interesting finding is that where information was requested in a more informal, frivolous way, people were more likely to complete it.

In answering highly personal questions like “Have you ever taken cocaine” or “Have you ever taken a picture of yourself or a partner naked”, people were on average 1.7 times more likely to answer the question where the questionnaire was positioned as frivolous.

People seem to let their guard down when the context is less formal – and this goes a long way to explain why people divulge such revealing and personal information within social networking sites like Facebook.

In a separate study called that looked specifically at privacy within social networks (entitled The Privacy Jungle - On the Market for Data Protection in Social Networks), they found that those networks that didn’t shout about their privacy policies had better growth rates than those that did – seeming to reinforce the previous study about suppressed participation. The study states:-

Operators may seek to create an environment where people feel free to disclose their data, which [..] is best achieved by making minimal reference to privacy

This doesn’t suggest that a privacy policy isn’t needed, that privacy isn’t important or that it shouldn’t be accessible. It simply shows that making people positively aware of something can actually have negative consequences.

Loyalty programmes are not that far away from social networks in terms of information collected and are in some cases actually becoming more like social networks – allowing members to interact together.

When looking at key success indicators for loyalty programmes, acquisition will always be number one – you can’t retain those you don’t acquire – and so any barrier to acquisition needs to be removed. The heart of a loyalty programme however is it’s data and so making sure data can be collected is also important.

What both these studies show is that best intentions – telling customers how you will protect their data or being formal about collecting it – can ultimately lead to negative responses and so it’s worth reviewing all key messages and communications within a programme to ensure they don’t raise unnecessary concerns - whilst ensuring that the reassurances are there, should they want to find them.

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