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Privacy Perspectives | Beyond a compliance mindset: How we communicate about privacy impacts our influence Related reading: Building a culture of privacy: Privacy as a strategic initiative



If you want to earn a seat for privacy at the same table as revenue-generating departments, you must communicate like one. Learn how privacy impacts your business’ bottom line: Conduct market research; study external reports; dig into brand perception; gather stakeholder feedback from externally facing teams, like customer support, business development, public policy, etcetera; and find out where subpar privacy practices are creating friction for your business. 

It’s a common misunderstanding that emphasizing something as a legal requirement will automatically elevate its importance among internal stakeholders. In my experience, this approach has limited success because it conditions our cross-functional colleagues to view privacy work as predetermined, uncreative or boring, and they could resent you for diverting their resources from more traditionally exciting projects. 

Instead, effectively motivating cross-functional teams depends on how well you understand and respect their unique value system. Everyone wants to demonstrate they’ve made a positive and industry-leading impact on the business, but different organizations often define that differently. 

For example, legal teams might measure success in terms of regulatory risk reduction or compliance; engineering teams are incentivized by the opportunity to build industry firsts, advance their field and contribute to the broader technical community. If your privacy initiatives aren’t offering any of these things, you may find yourself begging technical teams for cooperation every time a new requirement pops up. 

Consider that at many companies, calibration and promotion committees expect to see direct contributions to the company’s success. This means you need to design your privacy programs to deliver a neatly wrapped performance review for your cross-functional partners, making it easy for other teams to say yes to investing their time and resources. The ultimate goal is to build a reputation for engaging with your privacy program as a must-have experience for employees seeking career advancement.

More times than I can count, I’ve also seen privacy teams concede influence to marketing, sales or product development because compliance doesn’t grab executive attention as some flavor-of-the-month marketing metrics do. For example, the ethical gymnastics many companies accept to hide, bury or reject the California Consumer Privacy Act requirement to give consumers the ability to opt out of the sale of their data is a symptom of marketing’s addiction to data sales. Can’t find the opt-out button for a certain company? Marketing doesn’t want you to, and they won the debate against the privacy team. 

This is a sad but unavoidable fact at most companies. But privacy initiatives — whether centralized or not, led by technical or non-technical teams — are no less central to the bottom line. And it’s the responsibility of every privacy professional to understand how and why.  

There is now overwhelming evidence proving privacy is not merely a compliance issue but a fundamental consumer expectation and critical element of brand loyalty. For example, a recent study from Transcend revealed that 93% of Americans would switch to a company that prioritizes data privacy if given the option, and 38% believe it is worth spending more money with companies that prioritize data privacy. These findings are so beyond historical sentiment studies and indicate consumers don’t just care about privacy but are willing to reward companies that do, too. 

Companies’ longstanding failure to acknowledge or truly understand the relationship between privacy and public trust means the grand experiment to self-regulate has failed. Customers already know where you’re falling short — so do regulators, partners and investors, and they are not afraid to act on their convictions. To earn our seat at the table, privacy professionals must communicate as a company function committed to meeting customer expectations and sustainable business performance. 

Photo by Robin Worrall on Unsplash

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  • comment Vincent Renaud • Sep 18, 2020
    Thanks for the article. As often, education is key. But so is the need to not end up in a marketing vs privacy fight which does not serve your customers. I have observed that one way to grab attention of top management is to actually engage with marketers and sales in the same way they operate. To use your example of the opt-out, I have previously found myself saying to a group of marketers: 'We are not giving you a choice about having or not having an opt-out, this is a legal requirement. However, we would prefer it at the top of the page and you, as expected, would like it buried at the bottom. Let's just run some A|B split tests and see what the stats are. Cold, hard data cannot be argued with!'
    It works wonder. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes they are, but it builds a stronger relationship with those teams... and the users/customers are always served with what matters the most to them, which in the end is what top management values.