(Cyber)Crime And Punishment

Cybercrime. Should it now be a key concern for marketers wanting to protect their brand equity?

Yesterday I woke up to Simon Jack’s business slot on BBC R4’s ‘Today’ programme. He was interviewing Nick Hungerford of Nutmeg Asset Management who admitted to being kept up at night by the responsibility of handling personal data. This was a prelude to the big story around  Talk Talk’s trading update and a further opportunity to give CEO Dido Harding a grilling over the recent hack (although it was compared to the infamous Heartbleed hack as a ‘hackette’ – maybe a new one for the 2016 edition of OED’s new words). I missed his interview with Dido Harding but she didn’t get an easy ride off Bill Turnbull on BBC Breakfast. The results are not bad – all things considered – although the hack has cost them £35m so far, as well as 30% off the share price. That’s a big slice, and as the voice of the consumer, Bill Turnbull asked the probing questions we all expect, and CEO’s dread, about ‘trust’ and ‘security’.

It’s a vexed question. Ask any marketer what they aspire to instil in customers for their brand and ‘Trust’ probably figures very close to the top. As we all know, hard to win, easy to lose… etc. So maybe brand-responsible marketers have to ask some questions of their IT counterparts?

It now goes beyond the usual headache of protecting personal data for CRM campaigns and the like. It is on an entirely different scale. Few of us like to be bombarded with unwanted texts, emails and junk mail. Neither do we like our details being hawked round to the highest bidder. But it’s an irritant, not a crisis. When we entrust suppliers with our bank details, only to find that someone has run off with our hard earned cash. THAT’S when ‘trust’ really does become a big deal. Make no mistake, the time, stress and uncertain outcome of dealing with losing the contents of a personal bank account is going to test the brand loyalty of a saint.

And when it happens the spotlight’s glare is strong. Dido Harding has been criticised for saying too much, saying too little, being delphic about encryption – and so on. But Ms Harding put up a robust and common sense defence. She decided to break the news early and openly, as most media advice states. She also made the discomfiting point that this is now an everyday threat for all e-trading businesses where the walls constantly need to be built higher and higher.

We consumers have now woven e-commerce into our daily lives. If I asked you to tell me how many companies you had shared your bank or credit card details with, would you know? How many of us have asked about security arrangements, encryption etc BEFORE we hand over the information? And yet as victims, when the worst happens not only are we poorer, we are mad. Very mad. Brandowners need to think hard about this. Brand trust is no longer just about product performance or the general consumer experience, it’s increasingly about the unglamorous fundamentals of privacy and security.

So. Firstly, a ‘Talk Talk’ scenario could happen to anyone trading online. Even you. Secondly, regardless of who is managing your back office, the buck stops with you. Do you know what the protocols are? And do you have a Crisis Plan that talks to this type of event? Thirdly, the stakes are high. Once it’s public, customers are quick to judge. What would 30% off your share price mean to you? How would you recover that trust and the lost sales? Instead of thinking about your next product-centric campaign, why not consider the following proposition:

‘You can absolutely trust us to keep your data safe. Oh, and by the way we also make really nice widgets……’ .

It might be on the campaign plan sooner than any of us think. And ‘Guaranteed Data Security’ could very soon be a big plus on your next strategic SWOT exercise.

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