Personalization Does Not Equal Trust


There’s a line between targeted content and “Big Brother is Watching.” That line is personalized content, and it’s the sweet spot between creepy and moral that leaves the consumer feeling known and secure in the fact their needs can be met by a brand.

But, it doesn’t necessarily lead to consumer trust.

Ad Age calls on agencies to use what they coined “responsible personalization.” In his article, Brad Meegan compares the internet to “The Truman Show,” wherein a consumers next digital move is decided by a group of data analysts tracking next steps online.

This has been happening for so long, Meegan says consumers not only expect a personalized experience, but Pew reports 88 percent of people are willing to provide some personal information in order to experience certain online features, fully knowing the power their information has in shaping their online experience.

That same Pew report found in 2009, 33 percent of internet users were concerned about the amount of information that was collected from them online. Users clear cookies, delete dated posts, use temporary or fake email addresses, and have even gone as far as to encrypt web communications to avoid being tracked.

You can see the vicious cycle. Personalized content is expected – agencies are expected to provide it for brands – but users are not eager to share their information.

There is a way to provide personalization while securing trust. Meeger suggests three ways to breach this vicious cycle:

  1. Structure a homepage so users can find valued content quickly
  2. Let sharing information be consensual – brands may ask, but users ultimately determine what and how much to share.
  3. Allow users to opt-out of the value exchange at any point.

Peter Roesler, president at Web Marketing Pros, offers one more way to secure trust in his article in Inc. Roesler refers to a Virent study that found 89 percent of consumers want to know how companies keep their personal information secure, and another 86 percent insist they know when their information is shared with third parties. (Additional note: GDPR, enacted in 2018 and basically broke the internet, helps that 86 percent.)

Similarly, just because content is personalized does not mean a consumer is more likely to trust that brand over another brand that does not focus on personalization.

Digitalist Mag states the limits of trust shift constantly in people’s psychology, and social media is a constant temptation to reveal more. And as users share more, companies have more data to collect. The limits of trust are shifting more toward more personalization, not less.

Consumers are continuing to trust brands with their information. But it’s up to a brand to be responsible with that information. Because once a consumer finds out their information has been used against their will, that trust is difficult to gain back.