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The Importance of Transparency and Trust in Digital Marketing

Years ago, I took the time to set up four new email addresses for myself. Not one or two. Four.

I had finally tired of waking up each morning to an inbox bursting with 500 or 600 emails. Perhaps a hundred were actual work or personal emails. Another few dozen were emails I had signed up for but no longer cared about. (Come ons from retailers I had made a purchase from, mailing lists no longer relevant to me, and so on.) And the rest were good old-fashioned spam.

Turns out, somebody should have told me back in 1996 that it was going to turn out to be a bad idea to use my primary email address to register on every site I had a relationship with.

So I changed my email address and set up four new ones to handle casual site subscriptions (one each for business and personal) and more important financial transactions (banking, taxes, accounting, and insurance, etc. — again one each for business and personal.)

And yet here I am again, ten years later, facing largely the same dilemma. And that gets right to the heart of the problem with privacy issues in marketing. There is virtually no transparency.

Transparency and Trust

I am quite certain I didn’t share my financial transaction emails with anyone other than my banks, accountants, and the few online retailers with whom I do business repeatedly. Yet one or more of them clearly shared my information with their “partners.”

I’m sure that’s doing so was legit based on the legalese buried in their Terms and Conditions agreements — you know, the ones you click to agree to without reading. But does that make it right?

Even businesses that know better don’t seem to care. (A lead gen specialist I knew left the field and bought a motel. Does he really think it’s OK for him to have put me on his new motel’s mailing list?)

That creates problems even for those marketers who try to stay on the right side of privacy laws. Trust simply isn’t there because transparency is so lacking.

Interestingly, I’ve had marketers tell me they’re OK with this. Their arguments have all been along the lines of, “Well, we know they’re motivated because they wouldn’t share their email address without if they weren’t really interested.”

Hmm.

As I’ve noted in the past, this is either an enormous problem or no problem at all, since younger consumers are much more relaxed about privacy issues than their older counterparts. I’ve also noted that it would’t surprise me to see this change as those younger consumers age into homeownership and other large financial events and commitments that can be at risk to identity theft.

So perhaps that’s the reason none of the recent attempts to create more security and certainty around identity privacy have gained traction. I wonder whether that will change with the possibilities that “decentralized identity” present.

Decentralized Identity

An offshoot of the whole blockchain/digital currency/NFT/decentralized finance world, decentralized identity has value in a way that, well, bored apes may not have for very much longer.

Decentralized identity allows consumers — any entity, really — to control their identify and how their identity is used in different transactions, including email subscriptions. It places consumers back in control of authentication instead of leaving it to a myriad of user IDs and passwords or worse, a centralized sign-on like those offered by large social networks and search conglomerates. (Which are undeniably convenient but also about as opaque as it gets.)

If decentralized identity can provide more control to individuals to determine who knows what about them, and how that information is used, trust will increase as the transparency does. Ultimately, that opens more opportunities for conscientious marketers to reach more consumers.

It will be interesting to see whether consumers give it a chance, particularly the less tech savvy segment of the world. If they do, marketers may be facing a very different privacy landscape in just a few years time.

Andrew Schulkind

Since 1996, Andrew Schulkind has asked clients one simple question: what does digital marketing success look like, and how can marketing progress be measured? A veteran content marketer, web developer, and digital strategist, Andrew founded Andigo New Media to help firms find a more strategic and productive mix of tools that genuinely support online brand goals over time. With a passion for true collaboration and meaningful consensus, his work touches social media, search-engine optimization, and email marketing, among other components. He views is primary goal as encouraging engagement. Getting an audience involved in your story requires solid information architecture, a great user experience, and compelling content. A dash of common sense doesn’t hurt, either. Andrew has presented at Social Media Week NY and WordCampNYC, among other events, on content marketing and web-development topics. His technology writing appears on the Andigo blog, in a monthly column on Biznology.com, and for print and online publications like The New York Enterprise Report, Social Media Today, and GSG Worldwide’s publications LinkedIn & Business, Facebook & Business, and Tweeting & Business. Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy from Bucknell University. He engages in a range of community volunteer work and is an avid fly fisherman and cyclist. He also loves collecting meaningless trivia. (Did you know the Lone Ranger made his mask from the cloth of his brother's vest after his brother was killed by "the bad guys?")

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