Market research and privacy in the era of oversharing

OCTOBER 26, 2011 – Protecting consumers’ privacy while conducting market research is one of the primary goals of those working in the industry. Without the trust of the people who participate in online panels or research surveys, how would it be possible to get honest answers that provide actionable information and meaningful insight?

A study from McCann Truth Central found that protecting privacy not only maintains the customer relationship, but can actually offer more opportunities for marketers.

Laura Simpson, the global director of McCann Truth Central, said in a statement that businesses which collect customer data are exposed to risks as well as opportunities. “While the foremost concern must be to protect the data and privacy of customers, a smart strategy also encourages responsible sharing of relevant data, benefiting both the brand and the consumer,” she added.

The survey found that 37 percent of respondents fall under the “savvy shopper” category, meaning that they will interact with a brand or business, on the condition that the organization can offer them compensation for their information (loyalty programs, discounts) and the guarantee that their data will be kept private.

Researchers also noted that many consumers believe having privacy is a right (84 percent), just over half thought the government deserved the same, and 57 percent said businesses and brands have a right to privacy. “The government, it seems, must trade privacy for power,” the company said. Organizations will have to be more transparent if they hope to have consumers continue to share personal information.

Online networking may make it seem as if people no longer value or want privacy, with many social media users posting personal details about themselves on the internet for all the world to see. However, this trend also requires the average person to “spend more and more time managing their online brand,” the researchers observe, and many also maintain several different accounts that are manipulated to suit particular audiences – family members, coworkers or friends.

Companies need to be able to sort through these split personalities as they conduct online market research, since in order to determine how to shape advertising campaigns, they will need to “understand which version of their consumer they are interacting with each day.”

The importance of maintaining ethics and privacy in research extends beyond marketing. According to The New York Times, the federal government is currently considering revisions to research privacy rules that affect human subjects. Unfortunately, some opponents say that the new guidelines could actually be detrimental and restrict access to many records that were previously public.