There have been several posts in this space about the disconnect between marketers and customers. Part of the problem stems from consumers perception that marketers have no respect for privacy, and let’s be honest: In the quest to amass data-rich profiles, consumers’ desire for anonymity has often been ignored.

There is a tendency, though, to treat privacy as a binary thing: We care about it, or we don’t; we take steps to protect it or not. But that’s not how privacy awareness and behaviors really work. In our research, we’ve found that four primary variables drive how people think about privacy: 1) willingness to share information; 2) privacy awareness; 3) behaviors around safeguarding data; and 4) comfort level with the data economy.

In our recently updated 2019 consumer privacy segmentation, we found that:

  • Our willingness to share data with others — from people to government to businesses — isn’t static, and our motivations to share information vary widely. “Conditional Consumerists,” for example, are willing to share information for a mean of nine different benefits, while “Data-Savvy Digitals” are only willing to share for a few benefits.
  • While the trope about Millennials seems true on its face, what we’ve also found is that many younger people who are cavalier about their privacy — the so-called “Reckless Rebels” — change their behaviors when they have children or get a mortgage. In other words, life stage matters more than generation does.
  • Broadly speaking, we face a crisis of trust. Forty percent of consumers say that a firm’s “commitment to information confidentiality and data privacy” is the most important aspect of corporate responsibility, but fully one-third of US adults don’t trust any firms to keep their personal information secure.

What’s an organization to do?

A starting point is to give customers meaningful choices about the data they share and the value they receive in return. One powerful tool is a preference center, a user-facing portal that allows customers to customize content and communication preferences. A preference center, for instance, may offer options tailored to the user’s interests and the channels in which she wants to get communications.

Another step is to think about the questions your customers typically have when they read your privacy policy. For example, do they want to know whom you share their loyalty card information with? Use these concerns to develop a simplified, plain English version of your privacy policy that explains your data collection and use practices.

Marketers spend a lot of time, money, and energy on building personas and segments to improve their personalization tactics. These need to be balanced with privacy considerations. If you aren’t taking your customers’ privacy preferences and attitudes into account, are you really doing effective personalization at all?