7 Privacy UX Tips From a Privacy and Marketing Expert

There are all kinds of marketing awards, but how about one for privacy UX? How do you make your customers comfortable with your privacy user experience? It’s not just agencies — but ad tech and martech companies, data providers, analytics firms and even management consulting firms that are in the data-driven mix.

Do we need to have an award for a better Privacy UX?

With the Association of National Advertisers’ acquisition of the Data & Marketing Association last year came new ownership, too, of the International ECHO Awards. As a lover of data-driven marketing (and an ECHO Governor), it’s very exciting to see brands recognize the strategic role of data in driving more relevant consumer (and business) engagement, and the myriad ad and data partners that brands rely on to make this engagement happen.

It’s not just agencies — but ad tech and martech companies, data providers, analytics firms and even management consulting firms that are in the data-driven mix. These are the facilitators of today’s consumer intelligence that forms the basis for smarter and more efficient brand communication. Some folks even eschew the term “advertising” as we move into a world where branded and even non-branded content underlie data-inspired storytelling that are hallmarks of today’s forward-thinking campaigns.

By the way, the call for entries for this year’s ECHO Awards (to be presented March 2020 as ANA moves what was the DMA conference from this Fall to next Spring) is happening soon — though the entry portal is now open. Let me know if you’d like an invite to the launch party in New York (Wednesday, May 22, in the afternoon).

An Important Part of Brand-Consumer Dialogue — Privacy Notices

One category that won’t be part of this year’s ECHOs is related to privacy-specific communication from brands.

You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Again and again — all over our smartphone and laptops … communications asking for our consent for cookies, for newsletters, for device recognition, for terms and conditions — all in an effort to help enable data collection to serve the brand-consumer value exchange and subsequent dialogue.

Some of this is mandated from Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation, with halo impact in other nations and markets. Others are anticipating such notice requirements from California’s forthcoming privacy and advertising law. Still others are simply adopting heightened transparency (and choice) as part of self-regulatory and best practices regimes, where no laws may yet exist.

All of this devoted to one objective: getting a consumer (or business individual) to say “yes” to data collection about them, their devices and digital behaviors, in an effort to serve them better.

This week, during the International Association of Privacy Professionals’ Global Privacy Summit 2019 in Washington, DC, one expert — Darren Guarnaccia, Chief Product Officer, Crownpeak — offered some research insights from some 17 million preference experiences that Crownpeak has helped to facilitate on behalf of its brands. These experiences are focused on Europe in light of GDPR, but the findings offer good counsel to any brand that is thinking through its privacy UX.

Some Privacy Communications Concepts to Test

Here are just a few of the tips Guarnaccia reported:

  • Privacy Notices are Not Just a Matter of Compliance: Yes, they may be legally required in some jurisdictions – but more vitally, they should be treated with the same discipline and care of any other branded communication. Because the ultimate goal is to earn trust — going beyond compliance and permission. As a result, the whens, wheres and hows of such notices are vital to test and perfect.
  • Avoiding Legal Penalty Is Table Stakes — We Ought to Design Such Notices for Higher Purpose: To extend the previous point on consumer trust, there’s a higher price to pay if a privacy notice simply meets a legal expectation, and nothing more. Many consumers have gone “stealth” — using ad blockers and going incognito on browsers. We must remind, convince or persuade consumers of the value a brand seeks to offer in exchange for permissions and consents for data collection, analysis and application. Are we extending such notice in plain language at the right time?
  • Brand’ the Privacy Communication: This may seem obvious — but it’s often overlooked. Does the privacy notice look like it’s coming from the brand — or from somewhere else (such as a browser or ad tech partner)? In gaining consent, it’s always superior for the notice to be owned, cared and looked after by the brand itself — even if a third-party (such as an ad tech provider) is facilitating the notice. Does the creative of the notice match the colors, fonts and point sizes of the brand content behind it? By extending brand requirements to such communication, a brand is taking “ownership” of the data collection, consent and trust-building directly — as it should, in the eyes of the user.
  • Earn Before You Ask: Oftentimes, the consumer is presented with a cookie or related privacy notice upon entering a brand’s digital property — first page, upon entry. Test giving consumers a more anonymized experience for the few page visits, and then present a notice — “Are You Enjoying What You’re Seeing?” where a data collection permission is then sought. This allows the consumer to indeed value what’s on offer in information on the site.
  • Give Consumers Both an ‘Accept’ and a ‘Decline’ Choice or Button: Many sites offer only an “accept” button, leaving the consumer with an impression that they can “take it or leave it,” with no sense of real control. Test offering both an accept or decline offer — just seeing the word “decline” reminds consumers they are in control — and the actual decision to “decline” becomes more apparent for those consumers who indeed wish to be stealth.
  • Test Progressive Consent: Not every Website (or app) may need immediate access to user data for all purposes of consumer engagement. For data minimization purposes, perhaps ask visitors permission to collect only basic information (say, for contact, site optimization or customer recognition purposes) first. Then, only when necessary for utility, ask permissions for location data or other data categories, alongside the rationale for such collection and consent, as those needs arise. Asking for everything, upfront, all at once, can be a real turnoff — especially if a user is “new” to a brand. Consumers love — and frankly, need to know — the context for the permissions they give (or deny).
  • Test Privacy Notices by Market: Did you know users in the United Kingdom, for example, are 1.4 times more likely to give consent than those in France and Germany? How notices are worded and rationales explained — how transparency is conveyed — can have a big impact between markets, so it’s best to test notices by individual market (and language) to optimize consent rates. In short, national cultures and language nuance matter, too, in privacy communication.


In summary, there’s more payback than just permission. Consent rates in Europe can go as high as 60 to 70 percent — and hurtling over cookie walls at 80 to 90 percent — when privacy communications are optimized. Crownpeak offered far more tips (and real-market examples) in its session — about search engine optimization, personalization, analytics disclosures and other related topics. But there’s also lifetime value, and indeed consumer trust in the balance. We have an entirely new area for many marketers to test, working with their counsel and technology colleagues.

Who knows? Maybe the best such privacy-focused campaigns could still win a 2020 ECHO — based on compelling strategy, creative and results toward an earn-their-trust purpose. Is there a courageous brand ready to show us how? After all, this is one area where we all benefit from ways to raise consumer trust in advertising by sharing successful case studies. We shall see.

Website Design, Readability and Usability

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design. Here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design.

As a new website is being designed, layouts are typically created for all page types. Even if dummy or “greeked” content is used, that content is styled to match the overall design and with the intention that content on the site will match.

That’s a good first step toward ensuring solid usability, but placeholder text rarely has the same range of elements as real text — the headlines and subheadlines, bullet points and pull quotes, and most critically, the links that are an important part of any website.

To combat the problem — and to keep coders from making design and usability decisions as they build out the site — here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Readability: Content vs. Control

If a website does not create a distinction between editorial content and navigational controls, you will sense a problem. You may not notice it in the way a design or UX expert would, but you will notice it because the site will make you stop and think, perhaps just momentarily, about whether what you’re looking at is information to be processed or a way to move around the site.

This is rarely an issue for the main menu on a site, which are set apart from page content quite plainly and is usually consistent on nearly every page of a site. You’re more likely to run into issues with submenus and, especially, with content that doesn’t quite fit the site’s overall structure.

The latter occurs when a site wasn’t built with, say, a third level of pages in mind, and there is one small area of the site that needs that extra depth. Hardly ever will a content manager want to be bothered with calling in the designers for so small an issue, so the extra level is created as an afterthought.

Without a designer and with the inevitable focus on speed, it’s no wonder you can wind up with content that looks like navigation and navigation that looks like content.

Linking Properly

Menus always make links obvious, but there are times when it is necessary — and more appropriate — for links to appear as text within the page content. How you set these links apart is an important part of usability and a key design consideration. That said, this is a place where a designer can sometimes get in the way.

While nobody wants to see text links that look like they came straight out of 1996 — except maybe Craigslist — but from a usability standpoint, that’s a far better alternative than links that are designed to “match” the page design to the point that they are nearly undetectable. Yes, a dark gray link will match black text better than bright blue, but nobody is going to know it’s a link — especially if it’s not bold, underlined, or a different typeface.

Craig's List Screen Shot - High Readability?

There’s a lot of ground in the middle between these two options. Be sure to maximize usability first and design second.

Does It Scan?

There are hundreds of resources that will offer opinions about how long each line of text should be on your website, how large your type should be, and even whether serif or sans serif fonts are more readable. You can drive yourself mad trying to find rules to follow. Your best bet is to keep it simple.

Experience vs. Expedience in Digital Marketing

As a marketer in a time-starved world, you are walking a fine line when it comes to gaining your audience’s attention and keeping their attention. These are two very different things. One requires an experience with personality. The other requires a streamlined presentation.

Experience MeterAs a marketer in a time-starved world, you are walking a fine line when it comes to gaining your audience’s attention and keeping their attention. These are two very different things. One requires an experience with personality. The other requires a streamlined presentation.

In order to gain their attention, you need to establish personality on some level. You need to create a brand that gives you the space to establish the all-important emotional connection. Without that connection, you have little chance of standing out from your competition and rising above commodity provider status.

At the same time, a significant portion of your audience at any given moment isn’t really interested in your story. They just want the facts. As in, “Answer my questions so I can be on my way.” No fluff, no filler, no backstory.

Brand and Content Must Be Married

Together, these two truths mean that in order to create a great online presence, you need to find a way to bake your personality into the experience itself. So rather than having a really clever animation occupying center stage on your home page (and annoying those folks who really just want to get where they’re going), your personality needs to shine through in how you present not just your story/brand, but also in how you present “just the facts.”

New Content Formats

This will have an impact on the content you create. The spreadsheet that was OK a decade ago — and may still be just what the doctor ordered, depending on your audience — is, in many cases, better presented as an infographic now. The thousand-word treatise on how a client can tell whether they’ll benefit from your expertise will be more effective as a short video. (With an illustrated, annotated version of the treatise available for those who prefer to consume your content that way.)

So you don’t just need great content now. You need to produce that content in ways that take more creativity, effort, and, yes, budget, than a couple of paragraphs of text would.

As if that’s not challenge enough, we marketers also need to keep in mind the venerable ideas of Steve Krug. The title of his book says it all: Don’t Make Me Think. It is about web usability most directly, but applies to digital marketing much more broadly. It is well worth the read.

Exceed Expectations, Don’t Explode Them

His message is that your creativity can’t challenge your audience’s expectations to the point of confusion — even momentary confusion. People expect a contact link on the right-hand side of your main menu or your header. Is there any compelling reason to move it to the lower left? Or to call it “reach out” instead of Contact? Maybe, but you’d better be sure that your audience agrees with you.

Have you been wrestling with this balance? I would love to hear from you if you’d be willing to share your story, even anonymously, and would be thrilled to share the experiences of any of you who have succeeded in striking a balance that works for your marketing and your organization.

See the Customer Inside the Idiot With Compassion

“A person is smart. People are dumb.” That’s been my best friend’s favorite quote since we were 16. But it has a flaw: Compassion.

“A person is smart. People are dumb.”
—Agent K, Men in Black

That’s been my best friend’s favorite quote since we were 16 years old. But it has a flaw.

It’s not numbers that make people stupid. It’s your distance from them and your angle of view that make them appear so.

Maybe it’s the customer who asks how many are in a dozen. Or the website visitor who says your pictures are too small, even though it just takes a click to enlarge them. Or the member who complains about your password protocol because they can’t figure out to write it down. (Full disclosure: I’ve been that idiot.)

That’s hardly an exhaustive list of the ways the people you’re marketing to can look like idiots. I don’t have any idea of the myriad of specific ways your customers frustrate you, but I’m betting you have a list.

The job of marketing is to convince people, many people, people you’ll probably never meet, to do the thing you have painstakingly tried to make them want to do. You may have spent years of your life trying to make it as simple as possible for them to do the thing. You’ve probably bent over backwards to make sure they have everything they need to do it. And yet, sometimes we’re all just Happy Gilmore on the putting green trying to get the ball to go into the hole that’s its home.

Happy Gilmore, not showing compassionWhen they don’t do the thing, customers can all look like idiots.

Compassion in Business

This came to mind when I was at Dreamforce last week. A big theme of the show was compassion. Now sure, a lot of that was discussion about charitable works and Salesforce’s gifts to nonprofits (which are to be lauded), But there was a bigger point that Mark Benioff made: Businesses and people don’t succeed by doing what they need, they succeed when they start doing what others need.

That sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense when you think about the hallmarks of great products and services: They solve your peoples’ problems.

Compassion is the key to doing that. If you can’t sympathize with the people you’re marketing to, you can’t solve their problems — be it the problems your products are meant to solve, problems with your products, or problems with the path to purchasing your products.

Compassion is also the key to finding a sense of purpose in your marketing. It’s hard to feel fulfilled herding idiots. When you can look at your customers with compassion, empathizing with their problems and helping them in a worthwhile way, that’s what’s fulfilling and sustaining in business.

So by being compassionate to your prospects and customers, you’re also being compassionate to yourself.

Plus, you’ll make more money that way.