Have you seen the 2002 movie Minority Report? In particular, do you recall the scene in which the lead character, played by Tom Cruise, is shown highly targeted advertisements as he walks along a corridor? Through recognition technology, advertisers show him extremely relevant messaging, and upon entering a Gap store, a virtual associate even greets him by inquiring about his recent purchase of tank tops.

Holy wow…we’re pretty much there, folks!

We live in a world in which technology accommodates the transference of highly targeted messaging to specific recipients. The messages are often able to anticipate our wants and needs. However, we don’t have to be out and about, walking in public corridors, to receive our amazingly tailored messages. We have them delivered 24/7 through relatively tiny, handheld devices with massive computing power that we keep with us all the time. What once seemed futuristic is now just status quo.

Of course, this level of personalized messaging can be helpful, compelling, or invasive depending on your perspective. For those of us who use digital and social media marketing tools to reach our customers, we must walk a fine line— striking a balance between keeping our customers informed and engaged and respecting and protecting their privacy. How do we do this? How do we tread cautiously while also making the most of today’s technology-fueled, targeted marketing?

We have to prioritize security, privacy, and transparency.

If you’ve read my articles or seen me speak at biz events, I surely-to-goodness hope you’ve heard me state that your website and email list are foundational to all your marketing efforts. Your website is the ‘house that you own’, compared to your social media profiles being ‘spaces you rent’ on other people’s platforms. Your email list is core to your success because it’s your direct line to those who’ve expressed interest in the products or services you offer. These two pillars of your marketing efforts should be infused with security, transparency, and privacy to ensure current and potential customers are ready and willing to be in communication with your business—and to keep all parties safe from unwanted hacks or infringement from unauthorized thirds parties.

Protect Your Site with an SSL Certificate
An SSL or Secure Sockets Layer certificate is a globally accepted standard for website security that encrypts data, turning it into indecipherable code to prevent unauthorized access to information. Even if your website doesn’t accommodate e-commerce transactions, it’s still important to have an SSL certificate. This year, Google is getting serious about compliance. Sites that don’t have SSL certificates will likely be flagged as potentially unsafe in web search results. If you have the SSL, your web address will appear with “https” in the domain name in the browser bar. If you’re unsure your site’s status, please check with your web developer pronto.

Ensure Email Opt-Ins Are Authentic & Opt-Outs Are Always Offered
That email list I referenced as being foundational to your marketing? Every person on that list must have opted in to be there. Otherwise, you are out of compliance with even the most basic of email marketing standards. Not only do people have to ask or agree to be on your list, but also, they should be offered the opportunity to leave your list upon receipt of every email marketing message you send them. Email marketing services, i.e. MailChimp, Constant Contact, et al., provide prompts to make sure your email list subscribers are there because they have chosen to be—not because you arbitrarily added them. Those services also integrate opt-out messaging on all messages you send using the service to make it simple for people to remove themselves from your list or change their subscription preference. Lack of full compliance with email marketing standards would be a kiss of death in today’s business landscape. That’s why I advise that you absolutely, 100% use a reputable, third-party resource for your email marketing.

Get In Line with GDPR Standards
Lately, there’s been lots of talk about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)—the recently instituted package of legislative rules specific to countries in the European Union. GDPR makes it simple for residents of EU countries to protect their personal data online. Though full compliance went into effect just this past May, many businesses have long adopted the requirements. That’s why they’ve included pop-ups on their sites that inform you “we use cookies…” or have proactively been sending updates to their privacy policies and inviting you to review and update your email marketing preferences.

Though GDPR is specific for businesses based in or that advertise to prospects in European Union countries, it’s reasonable to presume all—or much—of the GDPR standards will make it to our shores sooner rather than later. Many U.S.-based entities with global audiences—Facebook, Google, etc.—are required to be in full compliance already. I strongly advise your business complies with these standards now, as well. The internet is a borderless world, so users from across the planet can end up on your website and in your data mix, whether you intended that to happen or not. Getting in line with GDPR is protection for you and the consumer. It’s a good motivator to make sure your stated privacy policy is up-to-date, your data collection and customer tracking methods are known to your audiences, and that you have the proper security measures in place to protect the data you store.

Make Your Transparency Apparent
At risk of being punny (who’m I kidding…the pun is always intended with me!), I’ll tell you that customers can see right through companies that lack transparency. If you run your business with openness and honesty with your customers, the standards, legislative rules, and requirements will ultimately be no trouble for you to comply with, even as the details may evolve or change.

Do you want customers’ emails so you can let them know about new products and specials you’re running? Then tell your customers they’ll receive those kinds of messages. Do you track customers’ actions on your website so you can follow up with targeted advertising that matches their interests? State that openly; there’s no reason to hide the fact you want to offer relevant messaging. Do you care about your customers’ privacy and data security? Then the least you can do is properly integrate encryption and security layers to keep all that sensitive information fully protected. Be transparent, and keep your customers updated and assured every step of the way.

If you need guidance on compliance, don’t hesitate to reach out to me by clicking here.

Thanks for reading!
Irene Williams head tilter and marketer