by Erna George The fair trade between just how much information brands want and how much consumers should provide is as important a consideration for me as any of the other more ‘creative’ or ‘marketing’ issues my previous columns have addressed.

In 2014, brands will seek more and more information to target customers effectively. However, at the same time, consumers will be working harder at protecting their privacy from constant intrusions and their identity from fraud.

Erna GeorgeExploiting customer data

While consumers do want and are willing to pay hard-earned cash for excellence in service, great products and a great experience, more and more they are demanding that brands, and the companies that own them, do not sell and exploit their information.

As usual, a few experiences and stories have led me to this point.

I recently went to a retail luggage store, the “home of fine leather and luggage’, to purchase a voucher for a gift for a business colleague’s farewell.

The Fair Exchange? I would walk in, pay the retailer X amount for the gift voucher and walk out in five minutes tops, and the retailer gets two opportunities to wow customers — me, with my five-minute experience, and my colleague, who would probably add extra to double the amount and splash out on an extravagant purchase.

Feeling vulnerable

Unfortunately, pandemonium ensued. First, the sales assistants had to refer to a file on ‘how to sell and capture a voucher’ on the system. I was then asked to provide my name, my ID number, telephone number and, of course, my credit card to pay.

Whatever for? I would not have been asked for that information if I had handed over my credit card to buy a handbag! I truly felt vulnerable.

The response was to direct me to head office, as the system would not allow the transaction to proceed without that info. Desperate (I had left it until late on Sunday afternoon as I assumed it to be a simple transaction), I provided the details and called head office the next day. Head office stated that the ID number was not needed and the store should not have pushed but, given that credit card fraud is rife, there was a procedure to get authorisation from the bank.

No proper explanation

Again, I want to spend money, I have chosen your brand from a selection of options and your response is ‘Let’s get all her details, provide a rubbish experience and no proper explanation for what is happening with all her data’. No way, José!

Funnily enough, as I regaled my mother with this story, she told me about a retailer she’d opened an account with years ago that wanted to update her details, but pretty much asked for proof of salary before doing so. Why? Is this because retailers are becoming finance houses or is this to ascertain a different credit rating to her existing one?

It all gets confusing, especially when messaging and behavior do not match. On the one hand, especially financial services brands say ‘never hand your pin out to anyone’. But a brand I do love, FNB, asks me to punch in my pin number when I call the credit-card help desk to query a transaction or investigate a bank fee.


I admit to being technically challenged, so understanding the security protocol is not my strong point. But it doesn’t seem to be a stretch that key strokes could be followed or the database hacked and there goes my credit limit. Surely there should be options?

Consumers are asked for information to register products, join loyalty programmes, get a credit note, buy a voucher. How do you protect it all?

In this supposedly tech-savvy and information-centric society, where a multitude of information bytes may be collected, collated and tapped into (think IT gurus) to create a probably highly accurate and complete picture of the consumer, it’s not in consumers’ best interests to provide all this information.

In the USA, the FBI has been using some of this tracking data to create cases against criminals. Yes, brand people, you can use this to target information more accurately but so, too, can the crooks!

Protection of personal information

Protecting Personal Identifiable Information is critical these days. Consumers have a reasonable expectation that the partners they choose to spend their money with, or give their loyalty to, will protect this with rigour. Consumers have a right to be concerned and to engage with a brand that is irresponsible with their information.

Let’s not wait for the laws to be cast from above or for the consumer market to become even more suspicious and cynical. While security might seem a boring topic for creative marketers to consider, it could have a big impact on brand trust in the future.

It is therefore vital for brands to behave responsibly with such precious commodities as their customers’ financial well-being and personal security. Ask yourself:

  • Which information may be optional to make consumers feel safe and that you have their interests at heart?
  • Why do you want the information, and does it benefit you as well as the consumer?
  • Do you have a privacy policy that keeps you honest and that is shareable with consumers to calm their nerves?

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Erna George is the business director heading up quality research at brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value. She works with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column about business relationships and partnerships in adland to MarkLives.

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