Cut the privacy jargon: what’s in it for me?

Exploring Millennials’ perceptions of brand trust in relation to their experience with well-established brands across social media channels

Millennials. Gen X. Snowflakes. Lazy/ambitious. Conflicted/ selfish. Arrogant/selfless. The proudly termed slash generation. However, you like to frame us, we are fast becoming the future. Accounting for 27% of the world’s population with a spending power exceeding $1.68 trillion, the extent of our influence is nothing short of extraordinary.

We are also the first ‘Facebook’ generation. The daily ritual of like, scroll, comment, share is something of a norm to us. It’s how we interact with friends, family, world news and, of course, brands. 81% of us agree that social media is the best way for brands to reach us, with global digital ad-spend surpassing TV in 2017 to account for 41% of all expenditure. I personally have been known to browse Missguided’s entire Barbie collection because of an enticing Instagram ad. Not to mention the endorsement by various social influencers.

Which is why our readiness to use our social selves as a bargaining tool is so important. After all, how else would companies access our spending power? We are completely happy to give away the most private of our data in exchange for a 20% off discount code, or to know what Disney Princess we are. I myself have willingly sacrificed my data in exchange for that very knowledge. Why? Because we appear to have complete trust in the companies who take it. A recent study by Gallup found that 80% of Millennials have ‘a lot’ of trust in companies when it comes to keeping personal data secure. Or so it seemed.

Enter Cambridge Analytica. What started with a seemingly innocent survey about ‘your digital life’ resulted in the privacy abuse of 87 million users globally. All by a company that we resolutely trusted. After all, why would we not? Facebook, some may say, is a symbol of the modern Millennial dream. Work hard, innovate, experiment, challenge the status quo and all your wildest dreams will come true. And with CEO Mark Zuckerberg now boasting an impressive personal net worth of $66bn at the tender age of 33, he is arguably the Millennial pariah. Such an abuse of our trust and faith should have marked the stark beginning of the end for Facebook.

And yet. As moved by the scandal we were, our devotion to social media is unwavering. Facebook continues to boast 2.2bn active monthly users, and 40% of us admit to disregarding a holiday destination because it’s just not Instagrammable enough. Despite vowing that I would remove myself from all social media and update every privacy setting post Cambridge Analytica, alas I remain a daily Facebook meme-aholic. Why? Because true to our conflicted nature, we are shameless opportunists.

Since the beginning of time, trade has laid at the foundation of our society. From the days of bartering grain for cattle to the thriving resale world of Depop, the principle is the same. If the benefit of what you offer outweighs the cost, the trade is a success. And today’s personal data bartering is no different. According to Inc., 60% of Millennials are willing to hand over the most private of information for an incentive offer. Sure, you can sell my data to third-party, if I can get Wi-Fi access in your restaurant. It’s fine to share my location, because I’ve just got 5% off at Sephora. We know you are probably going to abuse our data. So why not benefit from it? A surprisingly pragmatic attitude from arguably the most complex demographic group. As perfectly summarised by NYU Stern business professor Anindya Ghose, “Millennials are more than willing to exchange their privacy for convenience or an economical benefit”.

So, thinking of the exam question: are Millennials as flaky and unconsidered as many would like to think? Well, when it comes to data, certainly not. As savvy a company you may be, us eager 20 something’s are always one step ahead, especially when it comes to negotiating. Partially fuelled by our endless pursuit to discover and experience (78% of us would rather invest in experiences than things), our compliance is very much rested on a promise. As a brand, you may have access to our data, but only if you respect it. Protect it and use it not only for business gain but to enhance our experience. That’s because, despite us Millennials being notoriously brand promiscuous, if a brand is seen to offer us an authentic, meaningful experience, our attitudes switch entirely. So much so that 75% of us are willing to share personal information in exchange for a personalized experience. By showing respect and care with our data, the potential for brands is unprecedented. As we have seen, underneath it all us Millennials are love-struck loyalists to the brands and figures we believe have our interests at heart. Those brands that strike the right balance between data use and personal privacy will have a spending power exceeding $4 trillion at their disposal by 2030. Certainly, a figure to turn heads.

Brands have a lot of power in their hands in the form of data. The challenge is how to use it wisely, to form long-term connections. To provide us with experiences, incentives, perks that are completely unique. Solve that, and you will reap the rewards of Millennial loyalty. And, indeed that of Gen Z’s to come. All hail the new deal of privacy.