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Improving online privacy is one of the most important steps marketers can take to boost their brand preference and ensure that nearly half their customers don’t switch to another brand. Research from Google and Ipsos reveals that a remarkable 49% of participants said a positive privacy experience with their second-choice brand would lead them to switch from their first-choice brand.1

The study, involving 16,000 people across Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., also revealed how much a negative privacy experience can damage both trust and brand preference.2 As one research participant from Canada said, “I truly want to know exactly what you are doing with my information. Just be straightforward and use plain English.”3

These findings highlight the importance of giving customers a feeling of control over their information — and show how to deliver positive privacy experiences that deliver this feeling effectively.

Help customers feel in control with the three Ms

For customers, feeling in control is about more than just being in control. Privacy tools that allow people to change their cookie preferences and unsubscribe from email marketing can help keep customers in control of their data. But those tools are not enough to provide customers with the more substantial feeling of control that they need to trust a brand. Customers also want to know when and why they are sharing their information — and to understand the benefits they will receive from doing so.

Line drawings of a hand holding arrows pointing in opposite directions, a string tied around a finger, and settings sliders represent the 3 Ms of putting people in control of their data privacy: Meaningful, memorable, and manageable.

Privacy research we carried out in 2021 provides some insights into how to foster these feelings of control. Drawing on interviews with 7,000 people across five European countries, the research revealed that customers wanted privacy interactions to be:

  1. Meaningful. Show people what they get in return for sharing their data.
  2. Memorable. Remind people what data they shared and when.
  3. Manageable. Provide tools for people to manage their privacy.

Our latest research shows that when brands can deliver these types of interactions, customers find ads more relevant and experience more positive emotional responses.4 As one participant from Mexico explained, when companies offer positive privacy experiences, “I will open messages and read ads with pleasure, because I know they will bring something important to me.”5

Implementing the three Ms

To understand how these findings can be applied in the real world, we devised a series of data privacy practices for marketers to implement that make privacy interactions more meaningful, memorable, and manageable. We then tested them in hypothetical scenarios with customers to see which were most effective.

We found there are clear actions advertisers can take to increase customers’ feelings of control.6 The three most effective were asking how and how often people wish to be reminded of privacy settings; asking for consent to personalize a website experience; and providing additional reassurances for customers when personalizing a website experience.

Privacy practices that deliver increased feelings of control

A horizontal bar graph shows how much more in control people feel when privacy pratices are implemented, for example reminders of privacy settings (+7%), gaining consent to personalize website (+6%), and asking to select interests (+3%).

How privacy drives more effective marketing

We’ve seen how individual privacy practices can have a big impact on customers’ feelings of control. But we also tested what happened when we combined the three most effective practices in each country. In all four markets, the right combinations of practices did far more than just increase feelings of control. They also increased positive emotional responses to ads shown, the perceived relevance of ads, and customers’ willingness to trust brands with their personal data.7

For example, in the U.S., the three most effective privacy practices were asking customers how (and how often) they wanted to be reminded about their privacy settings; asking for consent to personalize a website; and sending a privacy digest via email. Using these practices in combination can give customers a stronger sense of control and increase trust when it comes to the handling of their personal data. It can also make ads feel more relevant and make customers respond more positively to them.

A person adjusts their privacy settings inside a green circle. +24% increase in feelings of control. A secure website appears inside a green circle. +11% increase in trust with personal data. A heart and a head appear inside a green circle. +18% increase in positive emotional response to ads shown. An online ad appears inside a green circle. +11% increase in perceived relevance of ads shown.

Putting privacy into practice

Using the insights above, marketers can offer positive privacy experiences that feel meaningful, memorable, and manageable. This creates a win-win scenario. When customers feel more in control, brands see increased levels of trust and preference, and advertising is more effective.