Consumers today are more concerned about their personal data than ever before. GDPR has given consumers more power over data protection to ensure they get more of what they want: less of the irrelevant marketing junk and more of the personalised content that peaks their interest. But there is still a massive disconnect between consumers and brands when it comes to data and trust.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) recently reported that 57% of consumers feel that they do not trust organisations to use their data responsibly. This is a big obstacle for marketers. It makes it more difficult for them to know their customers on a more personal level, and consumers ultimately miss out in the future. A middle ground urgently needs to be met if brands are to communicate relevant and personalised content to their customers, and for customers to take advantage of the offers available to them.

Consumer data: the elephant in the room

This issue is not new. Consumers’ true feelings towards the use of their personal data has been a bit of a mystery to businesses for many years now, but the issue is now front and centre, and must be addressed. How do consumers feel about their personal data being captured? Are they concerned about who has access to it? Do they feel they are in control of their data? These are just some of the FAQs that are regularly regurgitated to consumers with no definitive or conclusive answers in return.

It is often a fine balancing act; some consumers are comfortable with their data being captured by brands, others aren’t. This is often not distinguishable to companies, and is perhaps even overlooked at times. A recent study reported that three months on from the introduction of GDPR, 65% of consumers still believe that it’s made no difference at all, with a further 8% suggesting that things have actually become worse. The reasons for this conundrum are numerous, but, significantly, it shows that some brands failed to establish an appropriate level of trust with consumers before the introduction of GDPR and as a result, have not rectified that problem since the regulation came into effect.

This is a serious issue for marketers. They will now have to gain the trust of consumers not just by protecting their data but also by ensuring that they are respecting the consumer’s individual privacy, all while looking at ways to monetise the data they capture. It’s a complex situation to navigate.

GDPR should have given consumers that ease of mind, but it’s also the job of brands to adapt to the implications of this ruling. Simply put, if consumers don’t trust a company to protect their sensitive data and use it appropriately, then they will be less likely to give brands access to it, with or without GDPR. A lack of trust and access to that data means that brands face an impossible task of marketing to their consumer’s needs. So how exactly can brands overcome this problem and start gaining the trust of consumers properly? Well a good start would be for them to be more open and honest about how they use consumer data, and they need to look to acquire that data in an ethical way.

Achieving consumer loyalty safely with smartphone data

Now that brands are more conscious of GDPR, many are looking out for the next best way to capture first-party consumer data. The one data-magnet that comes to mind is the smartphone, a ubiquitous tool in our everyday lives. For many of us, we store our whole lives on our smartphones, from pictures of our favourite things to those all-important holiday arrangements and passport details. Brands are all too aware of the value of data and how it can unlock new revenue streams, but many are yet to properly take advantage of this veritable data goldmine. Smartphones record and capture a user’s online behaviour as well as their offline behaviour, which is just as important and equally insightful. Brands can use smartphone data to find out key information such as age, relationship status, hobbies and interests if they are a homeowner and whether they have children or not. What’s more is that the data is held entirely on-device, which means that end users are in full control of their data and have full visibility of who has access to it at any given time, through permissions on their device settings. This for consumers is a game changer and will naturally give them the reassurance that their data is safe. None of this data is ever seen by the brand or uploaded to a cloud server either. Instead, all the brand receives is a series of simple probabilities that indicate the persona of a consumer, such as a dog owner, personal interests or parent.

To marketers this is incredibly valuable, but, of course, consumers must first give their consent for brands to have access to this information, which is arguably its biggest obstacle. However, once they do, it should be relatively straight-forward. If brands can convince consumers to trust them with this data, which could also be GPS data, browser history, accelerometer data or more, advances in AI and deep learning technology means software can read the data and process it without ever taking it off the phone. This on-device capability ensures a sense of ‘data monogamy’ between consumers and brands where they both benefit, with the consumer’s data being kept safe, and with brands avoiding the risk of data breaches and remaining GDPR compliant.

Unlike the cloud, on-device data processing is an exceptionally secure form of data analysis, being that its much less desirable to hack than the cloud. One reason is that hackers are far less likely to seek out individual devices for information than they are to hack an entire cloud server containing vast amounts of data. Since on-device data remains exactly where it says – on the device – brands can process and analyse both online and offline consumer data in a safe and secure way. The future of data storage is within the palm of our hands, on our mobile phones and more brands ought to know this.

Brands should also be paying more attention to their customers by doing everything they can to get to know them at a much deeper level. By paying closer attention and offering the right content at the right time, brands will eventually be able to build stronger relationships with their customers. With the availability of online and offline data in great abundance within our smartphones, brands should be taking advantage of this with the use of on-device AI to give consumers highly personalised experiences that are tailored, targeted and catering to their demands and needs.

Brands need to look towards the future of digital loyalty schemes to differentiate themselves from the competition. John Lewis, one of the major retailers today, has already gone back to utilising customer loyalty schemes as part of its new customer retention strategy, and other brands should be following suit to have the best possible chance to gain the loyalty of consumers.

Ofri Ben-Porat

Ofri Ben-Porat