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Agency Advice Health Data & Privacy

How do you solve a problem like... convincing consumers to trust you with their health data?


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

March 10, 2021 | 11 min read

Each week, we ask readers of The Drum – from brands, agencies and everything in between – for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners.

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How can brands earn consumers’ trust around data?

Consumer data is an enormously important asset for today’s marketers, whether they’re working for a pioneering startup or an established legacy brand. But consumers are increasingly suspicious of where and how their data is used, and about what they’re really getting in return.

For businesses in the health space – whether that be lifestyle and fitness apps, digital health services or pharmaceutical giants – personal data often means medical information, meaning that conversation is even more difficult. So how can marketers better reassure consumers and persuade them to trust your brand with their data?

How do you solve a problem like... convincing consumers to trust you with their health data?

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Megan Thompson, head of data, AMV BBDO

The imperative to building trust when capturing and using data is that you are a human (or company made up of humans) talking to another human. If we humanize data, we build stronger, more emotional connections with consumers.

When you meet somebody new, you’re a creep if you try to find out everything about them straight away; consumers see brands that do this as exactly that and are consequently on guard. Go slowly, capture only what you need to provide an excellent value exchange, and ensure you respond appropriately so the consumer sees that value immediately in what they have shared.

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Leila Seith Hassan, head of data science and analytics, Digitas UK

As we all get savvier about how our data can be used against us (consider the many Netflix specials of late) in the race to make money, we are all getting more suspicious. People are literally and figuratively asking – why do you need this? Companies need to provide a clear value exchange and be transparent (without all the legalese) about what they’ll do with our data in future, provide an easy way to permanently delete it all or even, offer to delete it after a certain period. And above all – offer a basic product or service without requiring data. Nothing smells of desperation and greed like demanding my PII for generic content.

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Guy Swimer, executive creative director, McCann Health London

Smartphones, apps and wearables have transformed personal health. It’s no longer just about binder files in a doctor’s office – medical data is now how many steps you walked today, the cleanliness of the air around you or a report on your genetic lineage.

We generally accept the idea of exchanging personal info for the benefits tech services provide, health is just one example.

But ultimately, it comes down to authenticity. As a brand, if you’re maintaining authentic relationships with consumers, they’ll be OK with you holding some information. When people trust you, they’ll trust you with their data too.

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David Lloyd, head of data and insight, Wunderman Thompson

In our 2020 research, The Privacy Era, data privacy was deemed the second-biggest concern of Americans; more than the quality of healthcare or gun violence. 89% said companies were deliberately vague about the data exchange and were ‘sneaky’ in how they gathered data.

Marketers have a responsibility to take control for their brands, to stand apart from the practices that have led to this crisis in trust. A customer-centric perspective offering a fair and open exchange is vital. Transparency, choice and control should be tenets. Let customers decide and perhaps we can hope to regain trust.

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Alex Hesz, global chief strategy officer, DDB Worldwide

As the post-cookie world looms large, the dreaded ‘opt-in’ box seems to follow in its wake. Surely, as marketers, we can devise some means less retrograde and blunt to enable consumers to enjoy a more personalized experience online? Yet, as we reel from the impacts of Cambridge Analytica, Ed Snowden and data-harvesting apps like FaceApp, there is widespread – and frankly justified – wariness.

Trust will be born as it is in the real world, through observed good behavior, clear principles and the amassing of evidence. Brands need to make clear why they want your data, how they’ll use it, where it will be stored and when it will safely be deleted. Only through transparency and accessible principles can this trust, over time, be established.

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Rico Chan, co-head APAC, Verizon Media

Consumers understand what kind of data is most sensitive and will be willing to share it with companies they trust. Build a direct, trusted relationship and provide consumers with real value that will entice them to share their data in exchange for a relevant, personalized experience.

As marketers, we will need to strike the right balance of respecting privacy and choice with the data they hand over, while demonstrating that it is used to enhance the consumer experience. Allow consumers to be in control of the data-sharing experience; be transparent and adopt open, consent-based, privacy-centric policies that meet the standards of global legislation and regulation and honor privacy preferences while also maintaining a good consumer experience.

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Nick Beevors, senior strategist, Armadillo

Consumer data trust is largely implicit with brand trust. Any organization will struggle to get customers to share their data if other dealings don’t fill them with trust – that includes poor customer service, an inaccessible website, hidden costs and so on.

Always offer a value exchange around something that’s important and relevant to the customer. Something that’s worth them engaging and exchanging their data. Then reinforce this trust by using their data in a way that improves their experience.

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Matt Klein, director of strategy, Sparks & Honey

When we look back at brands that have tarnished consumer trust by mishandling data, but still receive new data, it’s clear why. These organizations are providing something which far outweighs the cost of mishandled data. This, by no means, should be established as a norm; it’s unethical and irresponsible, but this phenomenon can be leveraged as insight. If there’s a clear, proposed value exchange, then consumers remain likely to share their biometric or psychographic footprints. After all, anytime we buy something, it’s because we think we’re getting the better deal.

Data handling is beyond a marketing effort, but those on the front lines should be highlighting the exchange. By delivering and communicating the open and fair transaction, the marketer is able to remain transparent, building trust.

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Kevin O’Farrell, associate vice-president, Analytic Partners

The age of data exploitation is coming to a close and it’s up to advertisers to respect that and adjust accordingly.

Impactful marketing, particularly brand campaigns with strong creative assets, will help build consumer trust, which is vital if brands are to encourage them to share their data. We have seen brands increase their performance marketing at the expense of building their brand, perhaps fueled by the high sugar hit of targeted user tracking. But we’ve found that brand messaging outperforms performance messaging 80% of the time so there needs to be a good balance of both for sustainable growth.

A holistic, granular view that is still privacy compliant can help brands thrive in those new conditions. All advertisers must now adapt their measurement approaches and technology to reflect this change in privacy and find their path.

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Alex Pym, managing director, Huge

The power of offering genuine value to consumers in return for their data can’t be underestimated. The fitness brand Whoop does this brilliantly: it has made it normal for users to log sensitive data (think sex and drugs) alongside their workouts by offering high-value insights in return.

Acting with integrity across the board is vital if consumers are to trust your brand, and this includes investing in data security (which pays for itself anyway). Also, explain your data policies in ways a layperson understands. This suggests security is a business priority and not some box-ticking exercise.

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Anthony Magee, director of data and experience technology, Syzygy

Brands need to learn from governance and data ethics applied by most trusted sectors. 45% of UK consumers name banking and government organizations as the sectors they trust most to keep their data safe, while internet-only brands are trusted by 4.6%.

Convincing consumers requires a clear value exchange and communication of privacy, security, the integrity of data use and benefit to the individual. Over three quarters (77%) feel positive about brands using their data for personalization. Yet confusion remains around where data goes and how it’s used – trust will only come from transparency and investment in consumer-visible security like two-factor authentication.

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Cory Munchbach, chief operating officer, BlueConic

The brands that win today – whether they provide a healthcare service or otherwise – have a few things in common. Data is a currency and a discipline; everything starts with the consumer and their experience with the brand; and transactions are second to a mutual and ongoing value exchange between consumer and brand.

Customers who understand that their data is being meaningfully used in a way that benefits them will be more willing to share the data. The companies that use identity as the nexus between data and experience to deliver this mutually beneficial value.

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Rob Sellers, executive director of Growth Studio, Engine Creative

Brands like Airbnb, Uber and Amazon have earned trust by building distinct experiences that are brilliant and reliable. We understand the value in allowing our information to be plugged into their machines. The watch out for healthcare brands is that simply getting a foothold in that market doesn’t mean you’ll be trusted.

In the UK, pharmacy and medical brands are practically unknown, let alone trusted. A life insurance brand that the user never (or hopes to never) experience can communicate trust but will remain untested. It might be easier for brands with data-led products, like Apple or Amazon, to move into healthcare, than for a healthcare brand to win trust.

Want to join the conversation? Email me at to be included in future editions of this series.

Check out The Drum’s special Health hub, which examines how the key players – from health agencies to pharma firms to brands – are doing their part to return the world to normality.

Agency Advice Health Data & Privacy

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