5 fundamentals of responsible B2B Marketing (and why they’ve never been more important)

March 6, 2021 Chuck Leddy

By Chuck Leddy

The latest and greatest B2B marketing trends, from artificial intelligence to ABM to chatbots and personalization, are built upon firm foundations of customer data. But in order for B2B marketers to continue to collect and use that data, and do their work, they must treat customer data (and customers) responsibly. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a slew of regulations that impact how B2B marketers manage customer data, including GDPR, California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and several state and local laws. 

Even more than customer data, B2B marketers rely upon customer trust. Marketers build that customer trust the same way they build trust with anyone -- a spouse, a business partner or a neighbor -- by consistently acting as a responsible adult who cares about the rights and expectations of others. When you mess up, as we all do, you fess up and make it right. When you take, you give back. When you speak, you express truth and act in ways that align with your values. 

The cost of diminished trust

We all know that trust matters in all aspects of life. And yet we’ve seen an erosion of trust that extends well beyond B2B marketing, impacting our politics, our local government, the media, and our interactions online. What happens when customers hear a message from someone (whether a person or a brand) they don’t quite trust? They put up walls, armor themselves and get into a defensive crouch -- they delete the message, unfollow the messenger or share negative opinions.

Marketing is largely wasted in contexts of low or no trust because people are walled off to engagement. Not only do skeptical customers refuse to “take your word for it,” they may actually assume bad faith and misrepresentation. In contexts where trust is limited, almost anything a B2B marketer might say can be construed as controversial. You might as well say nothing, lest you offend anyone.

Building customer trust: 5 fundamentals

B2B marketers can expect new data privacy regulations and new pro-consumer, pro-privacy changes to keep on coming. Google, for instance, has recently made changes that limit tracking of third-party cookies. Apple CEO Tim Cook has called for new federal standards on customer data privacy: “the legislation should not only aim to put consumers in control of their data, [but] should also shine a light on actors trafficking in your data behind the scenes,” says Cook.

How can you stay ahead of these pro-privacy trends and build customer trust? Here are 5 principles you can follow in order to market responsibly:

1. Transparency. The concept of transparency is based on the belief that customers have a basic right to know how their data is being collected and used by brands. Many of the new data privacy regulations are intended to give customers transparency around (1) exactly what data is being collected from them and (2) how that data is being used. Nothing angers customers more than getting an email about a data breach that impacts them in some scary way, especially when they didn’t even know the brand had been collecting their data.

Transparency is antiseptic, like sunlight, allowing customers to understand not just the benefits they receive for surrendering their data, but also the risks involved. B2B marketers have an obligation to manage and store customer data  responsibly: when brands don’t disclose the risks, and then sell customer data to third-parties or get hacked because their data security practices are insufficient, customers have a right to feel aggrieved. Transparency helps customers and brands know what they’re getting into. 

2. Informed consent. Informed consent is a basic, ethical obligation in medicine. It means a doctor can’t provide a treatment, however helpful, unless she has disclosed in advance all the associated risks and the patient has agreed to go forward knowing those risks. Needless to say, informed consent means that patients (and customers) can say no.

The California Consumer Privacy Act, for instance, compels brands who collect customer data to disclose what data is being collected and how it’s getting used. If a customer doesn’t actively “opt-in” to data collection, the brand can’t collect data. This is an important distinction, because “opt-out” approaches force the customer to tell data collectors to stop. Opt-in approaches like the CCPA formalize informed consent and give customers more control over their data.

3. Equitable sharing of value. Data creates a tremendous amount of monetary value, not just for brands that collect it but also for third-parties who purchase and sell data. The monetization of data is a multi-billion dollar industry that benefits countless companies. The problem is that these benefits aren’t always shared equitably with the customers who provide the data (many doing so either for free or unknowingly). 

Customers justifiably expect to share in the value they create by making their data available. Many proposals exist for simply paying customers for their data, similar to how publishers pay royalties to book authors. A free white paper or app is great, but it usually doesn’t reflect an equitable sharing of value, especially when customer data helps build multi-billion dollar corporate empires.

4. Comply with regulations AND evolving customer expectations. At minimum, B2B marketers must comply with data privacy regulations. When they don’t, they face legal actions as well as reputational damage stemming from public disclosures. But savvy brands do more than just remain in compliance, they actively align themselves with customer expectations around data privacy. They recognize that building customer trust goes beyond mere compliance.

B2B marketers would be wise to get out in front of what’s driving data privacy regulations, which is increasing customer demand for more transparency and more control over their data. The reputation of marketing is already so bad that saying you do “the bare minimum” will scare most customers away from sharing data or interacting with you at all. 

5. Practice what you preach. We all want to make grand pronouncements of how responsible and equitable we are as individuals and organizations. The problem is that when brands “talk the talk” people then begin to observe whether they “walk the walk.” Words and deeds must be aligned. Nothing erodes customer trust faster than grand ethical pronouncements followed by bad brand behavior. 

In today’s world of social media, for instance, you can’t say your brand “stands for” the inclusion of women and people of color when your 20-member board of directors is all white men. When you say you care about something, you also need to actually do something. Today’s customers want words and deeds, and they’re not afraid to call brands out when words and deeds misalign.

If you’d like help implementing more responsible data practices, please reach out to us today!

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