For over a year now, I and several colleagues on our Technographics and Data teams have been working on a completely new way to understand consumers' complex feelings about privacy and personal data. The effort was inspired by Forrester's brand mission to challenge thinking, and lead change. We've been researching consumer privacy for a while now, but we wanted to bring it to life, and to provide our clients a way to assess their own customers' privacy sensitivities in order to best understand how to apply the frameworks we've developed over time.

Dozens of hours of survey design and data analysis later, I'm incredibly proud to introduce Forrester's Consumer Privacy Segmentation. We've defined four distinct segments of consumers, based on their attitudes and behaviors surrounding personal data collection and use:

Gina Fleming, my co-author and our Manager of Data Science, will soon write a post about the tremendous work she and her team did to develop this segmentation, but for now, I thought I'd share a few of my own big "a-has!" from the study.

  • Privacy isn't binary, no matter how much pundits try to convince you it is. Individuals have a nuanced sense of privacy, and the degrees to which it matters in certain circumstances. Our willingness to share data with others — from people to government to businesses — isn't static, and our motivations to share information vary widely. That said…
  • …A majority of people are actually willing to share their personal information — when there's a value exchange. In fact, 67% of consumers are willing to share some information with companies, although the types of companies they trust vary, as do the benefits they expect in exchange. Sadly, those who are unwilling to share simply don't understand the depth and breadth of the consumer data ecosystem, and for them, privacy breaches and "creepy" experiences can be particularly distressing and badly damaging to brand loyalty.
  • Younger, savvier, digital natives hold companies to a higher ethical standard. It turns out that Millennials aren't as cavalier about their personal data as some people would like to believe. And the moment they hit some key milestones in life — parenthood or home ownership, for example — their privacy attitudes change dramatically. But it's not just data ethics they care about: they expect the companies they do business with to "give back," too. This is the generation that has catapulted firms like Everlane, TOMS, and Warby-Parker to success. In other words, if you value this segment of consumers, you have to work on privacy and trustworthiness to build loyalty with them.
  • We're failing older, less technically savvy customers. I admit it: my heart sank a bit when we finally saw the data about Boomers+. They aren't any less worried about privacy, but they feel helpless to protect themselves online. There are the anecdotes, of course, about children and grandchildren installing adblockers and setting up password managers for them, but fundamentally, we have created F-U-D in an important segment of the online population. We can do more to educate and build trust with these consumers with transparency about data practices, simpler privacy policies, and easy-to-use preference and profile management.

We're excited to publish the same analysis for European and Canadian consumers in early 2017, and if you're a Technographics client, you'll soon have access to the segmentation's Dashboard, too.

We look forward to your thoughts about the Consumer Privacy Segmentation, and invite your feedback in the social channel of your choice. And, as always, don't hesitate to reach out to us to learn more about how best to use these data and insights in your customer experience, marketing, and analytics practices.