by Thor Olavsrud

How Businesses Can Get Consumers to Share Their Data

Jul 20, 20125 mins
Business IntelligenceConsumer ElectronicsCRM Systems

Consumers are increasingly aware of the value of their personal data to companies. But they're also willing to share so long as the information isn't too personal and they get something of value in exchange.

U.S. consumers know that their personal data is valuable to companies, and they’re not afraid to share as long as they receive something in the exchange and the information isn’t too personal, according to a new study by PwC.

“People are willing to share personal information if they get benefit from it,” says Mark Lobel, principal with PwC Advisory Services.

PwC reports that it used a two-phase program to capture the data. It started with a survey of 1,000 U.S. participants and then went into more depth with a series of follow-up focus groups.

PwC found that 73 percent of respondents were willing to share their information depending on what they would receive in return, and the number increased to 76 percent when offered free benefits, like free entertainment and media services. But consumers become increasingly more tight-fisted with information the more personal it gets.

Between 81 percent and 93 percent of participants were highly willing to share information about their gender and marital status. Between 53 percent and 65 percent of respondents were highly willing to share information about their household computer, TV programming preferences, and online movie/video/gaming patterns and preferences. And 41 percent to 50 percent were highly willing to share information on their online shopping patterns, name, household income, birth date or email address.

Consumers Get Reticent as Information Gets More Personal

But the numbers tail off dramatically from there. Only 30 percent were highly willing to share information about their current location or employment history; and only 11 percent to 17 percent were highly willing to share information about their Web browsing history, cell phone number, medical/financial information and mobile SMS details. Things like mobile call history are in a virtual lockbox, with only 4 percent to 7 percent highly willing to share. Respondents showed the most sensitivity to their social security numbers: only 3 percent were highly willing to share SSNs.

Lobel explains that so long as consumers perceive information as less personal and more anonymous–like broad demographic data and use of media content–they are willing to share. But anything that might compromise their private interests sets off alarm bells.

“I don’t see date of birth bothering me,” says one consumer, aged 18 to 34, interviewed by PwC. “Yearly income, it doesn’t even have to be true. What I say it is. Obviously, we just went through the email address. It means nothing to me. Phone numbers, I would be more wary of giving my cell phone number. I give them a house number all the time. No one answers that. It’s just cell phones are direct to you.”

Best Practices for Getting Consumers to Share Their Data

  • Make the consumer feel in control. Businesses need to be explicit and direct in stating what personal information will be used, how it will be collected and what the consumer will get in return, Lobel says. When consumers perceive transparency and have the option to control what and how information will be shared (such as through privacy settings), they are more willing to share information.
  • Remind consumers of the value of a big-company brand. Consumers are more willing to share information with well-known and ‘big-name’ companies. If you have a big brand behind you, remind consumers about the stability and trust a big-name company represents by educating them about how you protect their information and how you prevent security breaches.
  • Think about opt-in/opt-out procedures. With new privacy regulations looming, consider the benefits of a collective opt-in/opt-out process driven by the industry. The vast majority of consumers want to be able to manage their personal preferences for all mobile and Internet services in one location.
  • Prepare to give back. Consumers understand their information is valuable to you, and they are focused on the benefits they will receive by sharing. “Companies have to be prepared to give back to the consumer in exchange for having the consumer share their personal information,” Lobel says. “Consumers are focused on the benefits they receive.” While consumers love free services and products, they are also willing to share information in return for non-monetary benefits, he notes. Companies can entice consumers to share more information by promoting the non-monetary benefits consumers will receive in turn.
  • Target marketing and communication to specific segments. “Companies should consider slightly different marketing strategies for the younger versus older consumer segments,” Lobel says, explaining that both segments have distinct and consistent differences in attitudes and behaviors related to sharing their information. Younger consumers have grown up in the digital age and are used to sharing information. Older consumers are generally more cautious, and you will need to ensure the perceived benefit outweighs any potential risks.
  • When it comes to mobile marketing strategies, offer greater incentives. Consumers consider their mobile phones their lifelines-extremely personal and private. SMS messages they receive are supposed to be from friends and family, not for business promotional purposes. “Because consumers want to be in control, if a company wants to do a mobile marketing strategy, they’re going to have to offer more value, more incentives,” Lobel says. “Getting text messages every time I walk past a store is intrusive: I turn off my email; I don’t turn off my cell phone.”
  • Use email to communicate with consumers. Consumers are very comfortable sharing their email addresses, and they specifically look for emails from companies when they are ready to make a purchase. Email is the safest means for communicating with customers.

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Thor at