Brands today find themselves walking a tightrope when it comes to data privacy. 

On the one hand, customers expect-;honestly, demand-;marketing that is personalized to their needs, interests, and desires. This is especially true of B2B buyers, whose tolerance for irrelevant or off-target marketing is even lower than that of B2C customers.

On the other, growing skepticism about how brands are using the personal data they collect is prompting more customers to call for greater privacy protections, even if they don’t know exactly what those protections would look like. 

A recent report from Forrester called The Privacy-Personalization Paradox addresses this very issue, and offers guidance for brands trying to find a way forward. Here are some of my key takeaways. 

Consumers are now going beyond making aspirational statements about privacy, and taking actual steps to protect their privacy

For a long time, consumers’ privacy concerns were voiced mainly in terms of announced wishes for greater control-;with few actions actually taken to demand that control.

Even as Google added in ever-greater abilities to track and record user data, and data misuse and breach scandals overtook massive companies like Facebook and Equifax, consumers continued to accept brands’ data collection policies in order to use their sites. 

While a large number of consumers are still operating this way, Forrester found that there’s another significant group that is choosing privacy over convenience-;and that’s a finding worthy of major attention. 

Traffic on DuckDuckGo, the web browser that prioritizes privacy and is a competitor with Google Search, has grown 65 percent year-over-year. In addition, data shows that two-thirds of Americans use some sort of privacy add-on tool like an ad blocker or cookie blocker. 

My read on this is that it’s a sign of what’s to come. Brands are going to have to get serious about transparent privacy policies if they want to keep their customers, especially the highly privacy-concerned Gen Z-;who, by the way, now make up a significant percentage of B2B buyers. 

In addition to showing customers why and how they collect their data, they’re going to have to justify those practices to consumers, or risk losing them to a more forward-thinking competitor. 

Personalization must be purposeful

It’s true that customers are demanding personalization, but personalization for its own sake is no longer enough. 

As Forrester reports, brands must become much more thoughtful about the reasons behind personalized communications. 

Sure, it can be nice to get a marketing email reminding you about the whitepaper you forgot to download, but if your automated system sends out too many of them, or includes too many personal details, your customers aren’t going to feel appreciated-;they’ll feel stalked. 

This is where brands run the risk of becoming “creepy.” Personalization has to be designed with purpose. 

Customers will, in general, exchange data for something of value

One excellent option for many B2B brands is to give customers the opportunity to opt in to more data collection in exchange for something valuable-;exclusive content, a discount, early access to new products or services, etc. 

This gives the entire data collection enterprise much more transparency, which in turn will give consumers greater reason to trust your brand. 

Consumer trust is the most important element of ensuring your brand’s longevity

What your data privacy policies come down to, ultimately, is trust. 

And today, data privacy plays an inherent and major part of whether or not you continue to earn your customers’ trust. 

Are your privacy policies clear and easy to find on your website? 

Do consumers have the option to restrict the data you collect, and do you delete a customer’s data if they request it? 

Does your brand explain which types of data you do collect, and how it’s used? 

These things are key when it comes to establishing a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with the people you serve. And a sustainable B2B business requires that kind of long-term mutually beneficial relationship. 

Personalization and privacy are intricately connected, and must be balanced if brands want to connect authentically with their customers. 

The best place to start is by becoming radically transparent about your data and privacy policies. From there, you’ll be in a much better position to see what kind of personalization is working for your customers, and how to improve it.

Published on: Feb 12, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.