Consumer trust across institutions is declining. This is just one finding from Forrester’s ‘Trust In The Age Of The Customer’ report, published in November 2020. The same report also shows consumers are increasingly worried about misinformation spread by news publications, the research states: “During the course of the pandemic, consumers became less trusting.” 

Consumers are not only aware of how their data is being used online, causing this decline in trust, they’re beginning to take action against organizations that misuse their data too. Further, Forrester’s research shows that over 40% of consumers in North America and the UK said they would be likely to cancel a transaction if they read something they didn’t like in a privacy policy. 

To prevent further damage to consumer trust, and avoid churn, taking privacy and consumer data preferences seriously isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Brands and publishers should embrace the underlying mechanics of trust — integrity, competency, and transparency. Sharing data practices while providing value and relevant content will ensure consumer experiences align with their expectations, and they will continue to engage. 


Privacy regulation is set to escalate

The US is rapidly catching up to Europe in enforcing data privacy regulations. In 2020 CCPA went into effect in California calling for businesses to provide clear opt-outs for the “sale of customer data.” Further updates to CCPA were passed in November when CPRA was approved. The new law specifically calls out the sharing of data for “cross-context behavioral advertising.” Other states are set to follow suit, if they haven’t already. Most recently, Virginia passed the Customer Data Protection Act (CDPA), which will go into effect in January 2023 along with CPRA. 

As these regulations tighten, businesses that use consumer data for advertising will be under heavy scrutiny. They will be expected to share more information with consumers about how their data is used, in addition to gaining clear, specific, and informed consent before they process personal data. Importantly, publishers will also be required to display “prominently and conspicuously” on their homepages a “Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information” link.


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Brands and publishers recognize the need to prioritize consumer trust

Both publishers and brands understand that they need to take regulations seriously and build trust with consumers. As part of a joint research project with Forrester, Permutive surveyed more than 100 publishers and 100 brand advertisers to uncover trends around the use of data. 

Publishers rated improving customer trust and satisfaction (42%) in their top three business priorities ahead of traditional revenue drivers like increasing subscriptions (38%) or building and monetizing first-party data strategies (32%). Brands have a similar focus; 36% shared that driving customer trust was in their top three priorities along with improving marketing efficiency (36%) and improving customer and satisfaction (33%).

This is important. Brands know that without consumer trust they won’t be able to achieve their marketing goals and publishers know they need it to build their audiences and drive revenue. However, our survey shows that 38% of advertisers state that gaining consumer trust and consent is challenging. 

With so many competing sources of information and consumers who are frustrated with creepy advertising practices and companies tracking them across the web, there’s work to be done. To build those relationships and balance privacy concerns with value, every publisher or advertiser needs to: 

  • Be transparent around data usage; 
  • Provide consumers with a choice about how their data will be used; and
  • Ensure they provide value and a great experience for every consumer. 


Consumers require transparency and the freedom to choose

The emerging US privacy regulations explicitly call out transparency and the ability to opt out of data usage. As a result, businesses should provide consumers with easy to read the information on how their data is used, stored, and protected. But descriptions of data usage and opt-outs (or in Europe opt-ins) can be lengthy, confusing, and filled with legal jargon, often creating a disjointed experience when consumers land on a website. Both brands and publishers need to factor in the consumer experience rather than just doing the minimum to adhere to regulations. 

Brands are worried about consumers opting out; our research showed that 70% of brands are concerned about consumers declining consent to use their data. But empowering consumers with information about what ads they might expect and giving them clear choices could actually help to drive acceptance. Although consumers are becoming familiar with the concept of cookies, there’s still a big knowledge gap about what happens to their data within the advertising ecosystem. 

While consumers don’t want their data sold without their knowledge or used to track them across the internet, they do want tailored experiences. Better education around the types of marketing their data will support, and serving relevant engaging content, will help consumers understand the impact of opting out and ensure their data is used in a way that benefits them.  


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Deliver value and great experiences to build brand trust 

The final factor in driving trust is delivering value and providing products and services that customers want. Brands and publishers are in a unique position — both have the one-to-one relationship required to get data consent and the ability to analyze their data to understand consumer preferences and behavior of subscribers and unauthenticated users.

When consumers believe they are getting value in exchange for their data, they may be more willing to engage with services and ads. There will be different opportunities for data sharing at different stages of the customer journey and knowing the right time to get customers engaged or when to ask for their data will help. 

For example, it should be made clear what additional value a consumer gains when they sign up for a newsletter or subscribe to a publication. Their experience would improve as a result of knowing more about them and their preferences. But vitally, this identity must be respected with privacy as the number one priority. Publishers should also be looking for advertising partners that align with their brand.

When thinking about building trust, publishers and brands would benefit to think about:



  • Make data usage policies easy to find and understand.
  • Build ethical and transparent data practices across each part of the business.
  • Test different ways of obtaining data.



  • Provide choice about the ad experience and allow consumers to opt-out.
  • Provide additional value to consumers who provide their personal information or subscribe.
  • Analyze consumer data to tailor content. 
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  • Ensure advertising campaigns align with the publisher brand and its audiences.
  • Choose technology vendors and partners that adhere to the same high privacy standards.

Ultimately, consumers care most about their experience and whether they can access relevant content or products. Although advertising is now accepted as part of that experience, it should be a seamless, relevant part of the interaction rather than an annoyance. Easy-to-use sites, with relevant, differentiated information as well as transparency about data usage will be the ones consumers gravitate to. But to truly drive trust and retain consumers, the entire digital advertising industry needs to collaborate, putting data ethics and consumer needs at the core. 

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