The right side of the creepy line

Spy photo by Kit:FlickrLate last year Buzzfeed published an article warning people that 5,000 tracking devices had been covertly installed across New York city and were being used to monitor citizens as they went about their daily lives.

Despite this being grossly untrue – the ‘tracking devices’ were actually simple beacons designed to push advertising messages to consumers who had opted in – the article caused so much backlash the beacons were ordered to be removed immediately.

But the problem here wasn’t the technology, it was the fear generated by lack of information and perceived value.

As it turns out, humans like to be asked. We like to feel we have a semblance of control, even if that is really only an illusion in reality.

And while most of us can understand how a level of data sharing is beneficial to us in many varied ways we most definitely would like to know the hows, whys and whos first.

In the post-Snowden era, perhaps one of the reasons consumers react so fiercely is the feeling of powerlessness they currently have over how their data is stored. A recent study found that 91% of adults agree that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.

That’s not good news for brands that are looking to engage with consumers on a more personal level. But it isn’t all doom and gloom for brands and marketers.

There are many examples of brands getting the balance right. Around 30 million of us are more than happy to let Amazon hold onto our credit card details for the benefit of one-click convenience, and Tesco’s Clubcard tracks every single purchase made via a Tesco outlet, but 17 million of us don’t mind that level of surveillance for the discounts we receive in return.

The most recent Kinetic Panel (1000 participants, December 2014) supports the idea that people – particularly younger consumers – are more than willing to hand over their data in exchange for something in return.

‘In return’ being the key phrase here as it’s the perceived level of value exchange that is vital to increasing consumer trust. But with 68% of consumers suggesting they don’t feel the value exchange is in their favour at the moment, we have a way to go.

So what do consumers value and want from digital out of home screens? 48% of adults would like weather reports, 43% would download a retail voucher, 38% would like to see transport updates, 36% want wifi and 23% would like battery chargers.

Improved relevancy in messaging is what will lead to more widespread levels of trust amongst consumers around the use of their personal data and as marketers we have to get better this. And quickly.

Being free isn’t enough. Staying on the right side of the creepy line by being transparent, relevant and respectful is.

Christy Johnston, marketing content director, Kinetic

Photo courtesy of Kit/Flickr