In an era of ever-bigger data breaches, questions of how to treat consumer data responsibly have concerned many organizations, sales teams, and marketers. After all, if you're building an email list or using CRM software, you're essentially in the business of data collection. 

At the same time, the advent of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe along with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which goes into effect in 2020, has many marketers worried that it will be a challenge to stay in compliance with these regulations -- and to decide when and where they need to comply. One primary stipulation of such laws is that they maintain transparency about what data they're collecting.

But last week, during Content Marketing Institute's weekly Twitter chat (#CMWorld), a privacy-related question was asked that I had never really considered: "How might complying with privacy laws improve the effectiveness of our content?" And Arizona attorney Ruth B. Carter, the chat's featured guest, had a fascinating answer

"When you make your audience add themselves to your email list, you get an audience of people who already like you. You'll have a higher open rate. It's much easier to sell to them," Carter wrote. "Conversely, when you send me an unsolicited pitch, ... I never buy from or refer anyone to you." 

Building Trust 

What all of this comes down to is building consumer trust. And content marketers have already tuned in to just how important that is. 

Consumers today, especially Generation Z, value authenticity very highly. They're also more visually literate than ever before, and that means they can recognize inauthentic communication easily. They know a stock photo or a mass-produced email from a mile away.

That means that you can't really build trust with a consumer if they perceive your communications with them as unwanted, forced, contrived, cookie-cutter, or primarily centered around making a sale. And they're likely to feel this way if they sense that you're not respecting their privacy. 

I get marketing emails all the time where the writer seems to have absolutely no idea what we do as a company. I bet you do, too. And I bet that you, like me, delete these emails immediately. Worse, you might feel even less disposed to work with this brand since they clearly invested so little time in getting to know you before they used your personal information to autofill a stock email message and populate your inbox. These types of interactions actually hurt trust. 

But when I've asked more information from a company and what they send is useful and valuable to me, that builds trust. When they ask me whether I want to be opted in to future emails, that builds trust. And when I opt in, I feel in control of the conversation, and receive future communications willingly and with interest. 

All privacy regulations are really telling us as marketers is that we should focus on giving people the content they actually want. This, in turn, pushes us to create content that's truly valuable, and that not only helps our SEO -- it builds lasting customer relationships. 

Personalization Without Privacy Violations 

Instead of stock images and stock email campaigns, today's consumers are looking for more personalized content -- content that feels like it was truly made with them in mind. According to SmarterHQ, 72 percent of all consumers will only engage with your marketing content if it's personalized to their interests or needs. 

While you may believe that personalization requires you to have a backlog of data on a potential customer, that -- luckily -- isn't the case. An interactive quiz can recommend the right product to solve a potential customer's problem. A calculator widget can provide useful, customized data on what their mortgage payments would be based on their downpayment, interest rate, and other factors. In neither of these cases do you need prior knowledge of the consumer, nor do you need to keep the information they've inputted for later use. 

This type of personalized interaction has proven extremely effective: visual interactive content boasts an impressive 70-percent conversion rate.

Embracing Privacy 

We all value privacy. So if, as individuals, we appreciate regulations designed to protect our privacy, shouldn't we appreciate them as business leaders, as well? 

It's time to embrace the GDPR and CCPA as opportunities. They're pushing us to be better marketers, better businesses, and better partners for our customers. The organizations that realize this first will come out ahead of the pack, earning consumer trust and building client relationships for the long term. 

Published on: Oct 21, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.