This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Communications shares her final thoughts of her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series.


Over the past few weeks, I’ve outlined 8 Principles that will help marketers protect and strengthen their brands in an era of radical change, where there is great temptation (and quite likely management pressure) to push boundaries further than ever before. Throughout this time and many preceding months, I’ve had countless conversations with people about the state of their data as well as the modern conveniences upon which they’ve come to rely. I’ve heard a Big Data expert actively advocating for stretching the law (or hinting at crossing the line) for the sake of competitive advantage. I’m sure he is not alone in that opinion. We are, all of us, currently in the Wild West.

While technology is accelerating what’s possible, the ideas outlined in the 8 Principles come back to common fundamental and timeless human needs that will outlast every wave of technology: People protecting what’s theirs, seeking respect and dignity, wanting control of their lives, enjoying freedom and avoiding harm. The brands they will choose for anything more than a one-time experience will be those who understand those concerns, and actively work to enable them.

There is more to brand reputation than being the app of the moment. Not every new thing will be transformational. But businesses who innovate as well as who truly respect their customers and actively work to earn trust stand a far greater chance of longevity than those who rely on buzz about the shiny new object, or who exploit to maximum advantage thinking the ‘sheeple’ won’t notice. It will take work. It will take awareness. It will take intention. It will take courage. And it will take leadership.

Eventually today’s Wild West will give way to a more mature market dynamic. Embracing these 8 Principles may help ensure your company is there when that time comes – or even leading the way.

Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 5: Practice Customer Empathy
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 6: Comply with All Applicable Laws and Regulations. Then Exceed Them.
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 7: Apply Technology Thoughtfully
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 8: Actively Demonstrate Respect for Your Customers

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle eight: actively demonstrating respect for your customers.


The final of these 8 Principles clarifies a concept implied across the other seven. To become and remain a successful brand, businesses must actively demonstrate customer respect. Just saying ‘We respect our customers!’ is not enough. Prove it.

This can take many forms, from being transparent and honest about data collection and sharing practices to moderating your outreach below the annoyance level to integrating this attitude into your culture and policies – and many other opportunities mentioned through these posts.

Disrespectful practices were often brought up in the comments I’ve gotten. One respondent noted that “I want to feel like a vendor respects my data as much as I do.” People do not like bait-and-switch, confusing changes to privacy policies or anything that feels sneaky. They don’t like the burden of responsibility to stop something, like too much email or too many pop-ups. When everyone is tired or busy from their own lives, wearing people down or hoping they won’t notice might produce a short term win, but not long-term loyalty.

Having a straightforward dialog with your customers – even the ones who are unhappy with you – is another way to show respect. Everyone messes up – own it! Apologize, make it right and move on. If it wasn’t your fault, but there’s a small cost to making someone feel respected anyway – do it! Nordstrom figured this out a long time ago.

Nothing about customers wanting to feel respected and treated fairly is new. What is new is the exponential increase in vendor relationships enabled through technology. With the tremendous choice the modern customer enjoys, utility, benefit, quality and value are now table stakes. A differentiated and trusted experience, that includes feeling respected, is what will stand out. Someone’s choice of your product or service is a privilege. One of the best quotes from the respondent feedback sums it up: “Respect the customer and the customer will respect you.”

Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 5: Practice Customer Empathy
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 6: Comply with All Applicable Laws and Regulations. Then Exceed Them.
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 7: Apply Technology Thoughtfully

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle seven: applying technology thoughtfully while preserving customer data. 


Recently, Chapman University published the results of its survey America’s Top Fears 2015. Respondents were asked their fear level about different factors ranging from crime to disasters to their personal futures. FIVE OF THE TOP TEN THINGS PEOPLE FEAR ARE RELATED TO MIS-USE OF THEIR DATA! That includes cyber-terrorism, corporate tracking of personal information, government tracking of personal information, identity theft and credit card fraud. That’s out of 88 possible things to be afraid of!

There is a tidal wave of automation being applied to data collection and usage practices. I suggest that just because you can do something doesn’t always mean you should. We are approaching a tipping point around the creep factor of having everything that one does be tracked. People are tired of constant advertisements, witnessed by the increased adoption of ad blocking technology, and especially Apple’s recent iOS 9’s robust blocking capability for Safari – which has been heralded as the potential death of online advertising. As ads are blocked, marketers need to find other ways to get their message through, such as direct contact with mobile devices. That will require permission from each user. And that means you have to be delivering a lot of value while also showing some restraint in the level and frequency of contact.

Another interesting wrinkle is the October 6 ruling by the EU Court of Justice that struck down what is called Safe Harbor, a policy that allowed self-certification by U.S. companies to say their data protection standards were sufficient for EU citizens, who are protected by strict privacy law. Israel followed suit on Oct. 20. What happens next is yet to be determined, but everyone is scrambling to figure out how to protect their international business by the end of January grace period.

When practices get abused, people fight back or tune out. It’s human nature. In e-chatting during a webinar this week with its moderator Chris Surdak, a big data expert, (who I thought discussed unbridled capitalism more extremely than anyone I have ever heard), he noted regarding privacy that “The backlash will be epic, if we ever get there.” Hmmm. A thoughtful approach to what you collect, how you collect and use it, how long you keep what you collect, with whom you share it and what they do with it will better serve and protect your business and your brand through changes in customer sentiment and the regulatory environment.

Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 5: Practice Customer Empathy
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 6: Comply with All Applicable Laws and Regulations. Then Exceed Them.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle six: comply with all applicable laws and regulations - then exceed them. 


There are a LOT of laws and regulations out there that govern data handling and privacy. They vary according to where you conduct business. The European Union has the strictest set of laws that are built on the principle of human rights. The United States has what’s called a sectoral approach, that is different laws are set for different sectors – like HIPAA for healthcare, Gramm Leach Bliley for Finance, the Cable TV Privacy Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and on. In the US, 47 of 50 states also currently have data breach notification laws, all of them slightly different. Asian countries adopt data protection laws and sectoral laws. Many Latin American countries have constitutional guarantees, data protection laws, and sectoral laws. Yikes! It’s a lot to comply with – and just to keep things fun, laws and regulations are changing and updating all the time.

Realistically, marketers are not going to know every legal requirement that impacts their organization. But you should at least be aware of the basic principles of what’s allowed in the places you do business, then coordinate with Legal (I know, I know!) on how to stay out of trouble. This discovery can also happen through a process called a Privacy Impact Assessment, mentioned in my previous post.

Observing laws and regulations must be standard operating procedure. But just being compliant really isn’t enough to enhance your position in a fickle and frenetic market. Think about it this way – do you want your child to just stay out of trouble at school, or be a leader in the classroom? Where’s the attention going to go? You sure don’t want to stand out in a bad way – like being one of the 256 app providers who violated the privacy terms they contracted with Apple.

Going beyond the legal minimum and making extra effort will help your business differentiate as a trusted source. Simplified privacy policy language will help. Minimizing data collection and retention (yes, you CAN get rid of stuff!) will help. So will being transparent at all times about your practices and behaviors. Use creative ways to tell the story to your customers and stakeholders – through vignettes, through messaging, through customer service scripts – put it out there. Earning trust marks like TRUSTe really sends the message that you take data stewardship seriously.

Your customers expect you to comply with the law. They want to feel like you care and are proactive about protecting their data. I firmly believe that the great majority of people want to do the right thing; it comes back to mindfulness and balance between enthusiastic pursuit of business objectives and a bit of thoughtful restraint.

Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 5: Practice Customer Empathy

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle five: developing an empathic organizational culture that understands, internalizes and practices customer-sensitive behaviors.


Hand in hand with getting your own house in order to secure customer data is developing an empathic organizational culture that understands, internalizes and practices customer-sensitive behaviors. This can be reflected in the marketing practices you adopt, the way customer data is collected and handled, and the attitude and values that are expressed and embodied from leadership through the ranks.

Several respondents in our qualitative feedback study emphasized that organizations’ observing privacy policies internally was very important to them. While most every organization has an external privacy notice (understandable or not), many companies lack a robust internal privacy policy, data management policies, or even clarity of their privacy mission and position. It is important to thoughtfully define these, then train your people, in a resonant and memorable way about these corporate values and an employee’s role in them. Reinforce the training with an ongoing internal awareness campaign. Help your team remember that behind every purchase, tweet, post, click and share is a human being and all that entails. Anyone who has something or someone to protect can understand that.

This is a foundational aspect of your organization’s personality and reputation – how do you want to be seen and regarded? Are you the respectful company? The service-oriented company? One who customers see as sneaky or arrogant? One who is so consumed with innovation and speed that they forget there are real people who will be served or potentially harmed by your invention?

Consider incenting or requiring those who work with other’s personally identifiable information, whether it belongs to customers, employees, partners, students or anyone else, to get certifications. This can help them more deeply understand the implications of what they’re working with. A colleague of mine likened this to how massage therapists are trained to respect the bodies of their customers, with their reputation and careers dependent upon following those protocols.

A best practice is to conduct what’s called a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) to evaluate risk in both existing and intended practices and services. There are online resources to offer you guidance (shameless commerce warning: Dialog can help with these); you will need some understanding of the legal and regulatory environment in which you operate. Then, when you objectively understand the level of risk, you can consider adjustments to your practices or plans if necessary. Those who may decline to participate should be made fully accountable for any consequences – financial or otherwise.

Acculturating a sense of responsibility and empathy, with policies to back that up, will go a long way toward solidifying your organization’s reputation as a trusted vendor. And that translates to the bottom line.
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!

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