There are four key types of personal information that consumers may or may not be willing to share with the companies they deal with, with political views, religious beliefs, and ethnicity topping the list of questions never to ask, according to a Pitney Bowes survey conducted in the US, France, Germany, and the UK. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

By honouring consumers' sensitivities across the four types of data identified, brand interactions could potentially hit home much more effectively, and multi-channel marketing metrics also stand to improve dramatically, the study concluded.

The four types of data can be summarised as follows:

  1. Transactional data
    This is data consumers commonly share and often as part of a basic transaction such as subscribing to a website, adding themselves to a mailing list or joining a social media community. Few consumers will withhold transactional data from a brand or organisation. The percentage of respondents unwilling to share this data were: Date of Birth (10%); Postal Address (13%); Email (14%) and Bank Details (22%).
  2. Physical data
    This type of data is physical and, contrary to assumptions about vanity, are rather willingly shared by consumers. Consumers who will not share their height (22%), weight (24%) or home phone number (23%) were also a rather small group.
  3. Secure data
    This data is held more closely and shared more rarely, with 36% of consumers being unwilling to share details of their income, 38% being unwilling to share their mobile phone number, and 40% being unwilling to share their credit card number.
  4. Beliefs and Personal Attributes
    There is one, even more intimate level of data that covers personal attributes and beliefs. This data has a virtual lock and key around it and brands should be aware of the sensitivity that consumers feel about them. Political persuasion is "none of your business", according to 76% of the consumers surveyed. Religion followed with 71% of consumers being unwilling to share their beliefs. Ethnicity is a taboo subject for 54%, and sexual preference will not be shared by 45%.

"Every marketer must begin with full compliance with all security and privacy regulations in his or her country. Beyond that, brands would do well to be aware of these consumer perceptions as they collect customer data," said Dan Kohn, vice president of corporate marketing for Pitney Bowes.

Data gathering best practices
As a result, Pitney Bowes recommends the following six best practices for all marketers attempting to gather 'big data' to fuel their customer communication and relationship marketing efforts:

  1. Ensure compliance with all local and federal data regulations and keep up with current legislation.
  2. Get the basics right (i.e. make sure the name and address are right) before trying to develop the customer relationship any further.
  3. Be clear about your intentions when you collect data. Explain why you would like to know more, and explain the benefit of the customer sharing their data.
  4. Understand the limits of your brand. Do customers come to you because you do a simple service very well? If so, don't attempt to create a bigger customer experience where it may not be necessary or valued.
  5. Don't let data defeat you. There is a vast array of existing data technology and support that can be adopted or outsourced at every stage.
  6. Close the loop on communications. Use what comes back from customers to fuel further conversations and provide rewards to customers who have shared their data with you.