Consumers Warming Up to AI-Powered Research

Kimberly Surico |
 01/07/22 |
7 min read

Consumers Warming Up to AI-Powered Research

With personalized marketing and its many conveniences becoming the norm, more consumers are warming up to AI-powered consumer research. But although they’re less concerned by brands understanding their product preferences, a cautious approach that does not cross that invisible privacy line is a must. We’re exploring where that line is – and how companies should fold this insight into their strategic planning this year!

Consumers Warming up to AI powered Research

Although consumers are growing more knowledgeable about data collection and how companies use it, it’s essential to monitor the conversation around consumer research and privacy so you can cater to their concerns. We’ll touch on all of that here, with a focus on:

  • Consumers’ privacy concerns
  • Uncovering the social discussion around privacy
  • Planning around consumer privacy

Online privacy is a big deal to your customers, and any brand that experiences a privacy breach has a tough road ahead. We’ll discuss how consumers feel and what they are concerned about more in-depth, but here are a few general statistics to help shape the conversation:

  • To take some control over their online privacy, 79% of US adults say they use one or more tools to safeguard their data.
  • In 2020, there were 1,001 data breaches in the US, responsible for leaking data on over 155 million individuals. While still a severe problem, it’s a welcome decline from the 471 million people exposed in 2018.
  • 52% of US adults say they chose not to use a product or service from a particular brand due to privacy concerns.

The tug-of-war between consumers and brands concerning privacy, data collection, and consumer research continues. Brands need a solid understanding of what consumers are concerned about now and how those discussions evolve over time.

Consumer research using social listening and data collection is critical for brands to provide the best customer experience to their audience. Let’s discuss these issues in further detail to assist your brand in navigating the valley between privacy and consumer research.

Consumers’ Privacy Concerns

To an extent, consumers are aware of some of the benefits of sharing their data. While it still feels a bit personal, they know that collectively, these data points allow brands to tailor their ads, products, placement, and services.

Consumers are caught in a catch-22. 36% of consumers say they want the benefits of a personalized customer experience, but they don’t like to share the data it takes for brands to make that happen. Obviously, this presents a problem for brands.

The solution here for brands is to help build a more informed audience. That’s because, while most consumers are computer literate on a surface level, an understanding of data breaches, hacking, internet security, and tracking cookies remains elusive for most. And that contributes significantly to privacy concerns that hinder consumer research.

Privacy is an obvious pain point for many consumers. And one of the biggest problems is consumers don’t know what else companies are doing with their data and how long they keep it. Knowing this, it’s critical to ensure your brand is upfront with how and why you’re asking for their information. Anything you can do to alleviate their concerns will ease your data collection and, ultimately, your consumer research efforts.

Consumers are tripping over themselves to find brands that align with their values. And as we saw in the infographic above, many of the privacy conversations are focused on whether a brand makes them feel that their personal information is safeguarded. As of now, consumers exist on a privacy spectrum that falls between distrust and nervous laughter at the uncanny ability of phones to target them accurately. Regardless, brands must address these apprehensions outside of the small print.

Too many brands are dropping the ball with privacy concerns entirely in their messaging. Many others blast site visitors with a cookie popup that explains nothing, leaving no option but to accept all.

This is unfortunate because it’s an opportunity to educate your audience on what you’re doing and why. Brands that do this make consumers feel rail-roaded, and they’re not having it. They value their personal information, and corralling them into sharing ‘who knows what’ is often reason enough to shop elsewhere. A Pew Research Center survey found 52% of US consumers have turned their backs on a brand’s products or services over privacy concerns. Of those, the primary privacy turn-off for consumers was their website (21%), followed by electronics (11%) and social media (10%).

However, all is not lost. People are warming to data-centered consumer research as they grow more informed on the subject. It’s up to brands to meet them where they’re at, though. For that, we can turn to social listening to get a better feel for the consumer privacy discussion.

Uncovering Privacy Discussions on Social Media

Consumers talk about everything online, and their privacy concerns are no different. As such, it’s a valuable resource to understand what your customers are experiencing out in the wild. Then you can use those customer insights to streamline your data collection process and offer transparency to your audience. This alleviates their fears and takes some of the kinks out of your consumer research journey.

Generally speaking, we find that consumers don’t really trust companies to protect their data – especially big tech. Looking back over the past two years, the net sentiment average for the online privacy discussion is 26% on a scale of -100 – 100.

That’s not super great, but it’s not awful either. If we narrow our time frame down to the past year, sentiment increases four percentage points to 30%. Over the previous three months, sentiment was at 33%, and last month’s average was 36%. This indicates positive movement in online privacy and consumer research compared to the 26% two-year average.

This warming of sentiment is also notable because the conversational volume around the subject has grown noticeably since May 2021.


Two-year timeline of social media users discussing online privacy. 1/2020 – 1/2022

To get a feel for the sub-topics within this two-year general discussion of online privacy, we can use data visualization for a better understanding. For simplicity, we’ve cut away everything except the top ten thematic clusters for a general viewpoint. Data privacy is the most significant cluster, followed by e-commerce, messaging apps, big tech companies, and general data protection, rounding out the top five.

Top ten themes in online privacy social media discussion over two years. 1/2020 – 1/2022

Top ten themes in online privacy social media discussion over two years. 1/2020 – 1/2022

At the very least, every brand should familiarize itself with the consumer discussions involving data privacy, general data protection, e-commerce, targeted ads, and third-party cookies. The consumer insights contained herein will help you apply effective strategies that relieve real-life pain points.

Now that we have a two-year global footprint let’s look at more current conversations. In the general discussion, Reddit is the top domain represented by a long shot. Lucky for us, r/privacy is an entire subreddit dedicated to our subject with over 1.2 million subscribers.

Here, we pulled in the entire conversation from the subreddit over the past month and narrowed it down to the top ten themes. This gives us the low-down on the most recent interests within the group.


Top ten themes in the r/privacy subreddit. 12/3/21-1/3/22

Judging from the nature of these conversations, general privacy pitfalls have been understood, and users are busy looking for alternatives. They are looking for tools and resources that will best protect their online privacy. As such, the burden is on brands to understand what tools they are reaching for and how they may hinder your ad targeting, messaging, or consumer research.

With a wide-angle and molecular viewpoint such as this in hand, brands will be better positioned to navigate their audience’s consumer privacy concerns. Now it’s time to put a strategy in place to optimize your consumer research capabilities.

Planning around Consumer Privacy

If you want unimpeded consumer research and hassle-free ad targeting, then you must build the bridge that crosses consumers’ privacy concerns. And since there’s a 50% chance a consumer will opt out of a purchase if you don’t meet their privacy threshold, it pays to get this right.

Taking these consumer insights to the drawing board is a must. As we’ve shown, this conversation is only growing, so brands that don’t acknowledge these consumer frustrations will find themselves on the sidelines.

Now that you know the general scope of the online privacy discourse, step one should be further research. This part is up to you to understand how consumer privacy intersects with your unique market position. If you sell tacos at a roadside stand for cash, there’s not much work to be done. It’s a whole different ballgame if you lean on ecommerce and social media to move smart-home devices.

If you want to catch a consumer, you must think like a consumer – and social listening will show you what’s top of mind with your audience. As with any emerging trend, it’s easy for brands to casually disregard nascent conversations like this. What separates first-movers from the crowd is their willingness to stick probes in these narratives and shape their strategy around giving their consumers what they want.

After you dive into the online privacy narratives, towel off and revisit your brand’s privacy policies. How can you do better? Where have you installed hurdles to consumer trust? Are your website cookies transparent? Does your app make it challenging to navigate privacy? Are there gaps between what people are afraid of privacy-wise and how your brand approaches consumer data?

These are the types of questions that, if answered honestly, can get the ball rolling. And creating messaging around the subject will go a long way to generate trust. Outside of news media, not many brands are bringing this up themselves. Not yet anyway.

In a nutshell, consumers want personalized brand experiences, and they’re beginning to understand that AI-powered consumer research can take them there. So, now that you know what their reservations are – talk about it.

Much like a metal detector, social listening tools help brands uncover hidden conversations. That way, you’re not digging the foundations of brand strategy in the wrong place. Reach out for a demo, and we’ll help your brand unearth how your consumers feel about any topic, so you’re always first on the scene with innovative solutions.

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