When you interview for a new job, you should prepare accordingly. You should be able to showcase what you know about the company, its mission and products, and how your experience can uniquely benefit them. That’s the kind of personalization that makes your interviewer take notice. 

However, you probably should not know your interviewer’s entire work history, favorite foods, relationship status, or what they like to watch on Netflix. That’s an invasion of privacy. 

Businesses courting customers are like potential job applicants preparing for an interview. A little information goes a long way—but too much could backfire. 

This situation isn’t ideal for consumer loyalty—or your bottom line. A whopping 94% of businesses agree that consumers would not buy from them if they didn’t handle their personal data appropriately. But pragmatically, personalization can make a significant difference in marketing to your consumers. 

It’s up to businesses to thread that needle.

Here are six strategies companies can use to deliver personalized experiences without infringing on user privacy. 

1. Build a first-party data program

First-party data is just data that users share directly and voluntarily with you. It’s much more reliable than data collected by outside vendors and is much more likely to yield accurate insights that can help you boost your business. 

Think of a personal profile that a user builds on a news platform where they can indicate their preferred topics of interest. This allows the website to deliver the content users want to see to create a personalized experience without drawing from unnecessary data collection. 

This can vary between industries. For makeup brands, users can volunteer their skin type for a more personalized shopping experience. For an online game store, users could indicate their favorite genres so they can receive emails when certain games get released or go on sale. 

Users want a personalized experience, and a first-party data program is an easy way to create one without resorting to the overcollection of personal data. (Just make sure you explain why you’re collecting the data, both at the point of collection and in your privacy notice, especially if it could make the individual uncomfortable.)

2. Add a preference center to your website

A preference center is often a component of first-party data programs. It’s a page on your website or app where users can tell you how you may use or share their personal information. 

As a privacy tool, privacy centers have multiple benefits for your businesses. For one, they give your customers input in your relationship with them.  

Do your customers want weekly emails? Do they want to know about upcoming events, product releases, and webinars? Do they want text messages? Do they want you to send them every single thing your marketing department releases—or none of it?

Providing these options extends them control over their relationship with you—and that control creates more trust. 

However, preference centers are really practical. They take the guesswork out of managing customer data by allowing consumers to update their information themselves—and anything that leads to less work AND increased accuracy is a win. 

Preference centers also make your marketing more effective. Customers can indicate when you may contact them, how, how often, and about what. This helps you: 

  • Increase your open rates
  • Send marketing material to audiences most likely to engage and convert 
  • Reduce unsubscribes, blocks, and email deliverability issues

3. Ask permission, not forgiveness

While the saying “ask forgiveness, not permission” may apply in some situations, your privacy program isn’t one of them.   

Always ask permission. 

For example, let’s say you ask customers for their phone numbers as part of a rewards program. You tell them their number will be used to track purchases, shipping information, or store rewards, but you don’t mention marketing. 

Then, your company implements automated text message campaigns. Your team uses customers’ phone numbers to send information about a big sale. And another one. And another one. 

Surprise: you’ve just violated consumer trust, as well as most privacy laws. Even though the customers gave you their numbers, they only consented to transactional exchanges; they didn’t explicitly give you permission to text them marketing messages. 

Long story short: always ask permission, NOT forgiveness.

4. Review your cookies and cookie consent banner regularly

Cookies can help businesses offer a more personalized experience online. Some of these uses are welcome (like remembering language preferences or keeping items in a shopping cart). Others are less welcome (like targeted ads that follow you around the internet). 

Because of their wide-ranging uses, cookies can be a big privacy stumbling block. Third-party data sharing, tracking and profiling, inconsistent consent mechanisms—there is a lot of room for errors. 

As a privacy- and personalization-savvy business, you can avoid these errors by making website cookies and banners part of your ongoing privacy to-do list. 

Privacy regulations are a moving target. New state privacy regulations emerge every year, and AI applications add another layer of complexity. Your cookie banner should be kept up-to-date with every regulation you’re required to adhere to to avoid compliance missteps. 

Another consideration is your business itself. 

Businesses are dynamic entities, adding new products or services, shifting marketing strategies, and expanding their markets. All of these activities can lead to changes in your cookie usage. If you add or remove cookies from your website, update your cookie consent software and policy accordingly. 

Once you adjust your website cookies or consent banner, test your site to ensure everything works as intended. For example, are cookies really getting blocked if the user opts out? Taking these simple steps now can save you huge headaches down the road. 

By staying up-to-date and accurate with your cookies and banners, you can also increase your company’s and consumers’ trust by creating transparency surrounding your data collection practices. 

5. Don’t just leave it all up to IT

Don’t get us wrong. IT teams are important to successful business operations—but they shouldn’t be the default owners of privacy just because they’re the “techy” bunch.  

So what do you do if you’re not leaning on IT? 

You’ve got options: legal, HR, customer support, and marketing all intersect with consumer data. It matters less about the department and more about the leadership. The important thing is to have someone dedicated to privacy, whether an internal team member or a fractional privacy officer, who owns privacy activities. 

From there, they can build the right cross-departmental, cross-functional partners to ensure privacy isn’t siloed and that a steady hand is steering the ship. 

(Yes, even if you have a data privacy silo, you may be able to achieve compliance. But the resulting processes probably won’t be efficient, sustainable, or easy to navigate.) 

6. Figure out your opt-in/out-out obligations

How your company handles opt-ins/opt-outs has significant implications, from consumer trust to regulatory compliance to (and here’s the tie-in) how effective your personalization is.

As a baseline, your consumers need to trust that your business is approaching privacy thoughtfully, and nowhere is that more evident than meeting your opt-in/opt-out. Opting in/out of data collection is the consumer’s mechanism for a consent-based relationship with your data collection—don’t take advantage of that.

How does this tie into personalization? 

Let them know your intentions with your data collection, be judicious about what you ask for, and get their consent where applicable or where it just makes sense for the customer. This will create a strong foundation of trust with your customers, making them more likely to share accurate and detailed information. In turn, this helps you implement more effective personalization. 

(This is great news, as it reinforces the trust you worked hard to build.) 

However, businesses need to monitor compliance with this. Different jurisdictions approach opt-ins/opt-outs differently, so it’s (again) not a one-size-fits-all scenario. For example, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires explicit opt-in consent, while U.S. state privacy regulations vary in requirements; review carefully and decide which approach is most suitable for your business and privacy needs.

For data privacy, honesty is the best policy

Regardless of what jurisdictions or regulations apply to your business, the best data privacy policy is clear and transparent. If you’re honest, consistent, and transparent, your personalization will be seen as a benefit rather than an invasion of privacy.

It’s a lot of requirements to swim through—but working with an experienced privacy professional can help you clarify what your obligations are and how to merge privacy, compliance, and personalization. Ready to get started? Drop us a line!