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Encrypt Your Data, Protect Your Brand

Created: 23 Sep 2009 • Updated: 05 Nov 2012
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Tim Matthews - Senior Director Product Marketing

Encryption and brand management make for an unlikely pairing. While both skilled disciplines, it's hard to imagine regular meetings between the math-mad elliptic curve tinkerer and Armani-clad glad hander archetypes. But the linkage between the two has only grown stronger the more of our lives we live online.

For those not familiar with how valuable a brand can be, there’s no better place to start than the Best Global Brands report by Interbrand. Their methodology estimates brand value on the basis of how much it is likely to earn for the company in the future. Via a combination of analyst projections, company financial statements, and their own qualitative and quantitative analysis, a net present value of those earnings is calculated – one that puts the brand value of household names like IBM, American Express, Google and CitiGroup in the tens of billions. The kind of money that gets the CEO’s attention. To see what some of these companies are currently doing to protect their brands during a time of economic uncertainty, check out this BusinessWeek story.

So what does encryption have to do with all of this? A critical piece of brand value is trust. Being irresponsible with consumer data – also known as personally identifiable information or PII – destroys that trust, and diminishes the brand. Marty Neumeier, branding guru and author of The Brand Gap puts it this way: “Trust is the ultimate shortcut to a buying decision, and the bedrock of modern branding.” Diminishing trust diminishes the brand, which diminishes sales.

John Gerzema of Y&R has a fascinating study on "brand stress testing," following the U.S. Treasury's stress testing of financial institutions.  Here's how he sums up the importance of trust for financial institutions:

In conclusion, financial institutions may have gotten through the Treasury’s stress test, but the stress on their brands is unrelenting and they need to think differently than they have for the past decade (or three decades) if they want to regain the trust of the customer. The same trust that they rely upon in their lending models, must be applied to their branding models. Trust in the 21st century is generated by exposing the process, not just outputting the product. Your customers want to know you, not just your sanitized soundbite. The institutions that succeed will be local thinkers who are transparent in their sales and reporting. No trust, no confidence, no business - time to start rebuilding.

For many companies, encryption deployments begin as an effort to rebuild their brand after a data breach. Restoring confidence is key, and a response that shows that the company is making every effort to protect the PII of the customer or constituent is required.   Heartland Payment Systems, which suffered a massive breach in January, has been promoting their new end-to-end encryption architecture to turn the tide of public opinion.

Suffice it to say most companies don't want to suffer the cost and media shellacking a data breach can cause, no matter what the eventual upside of better data protection.  Which begs the question: Can a company use encryption to proactively enhance its brand? According to Dr. Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute, the answer is yes:

Consumer-facing companies in high trust industries – such as financial services or healthcare – are more likely to see a rise brand value when stakeholders view them as having superior privacy and data protection practices.   Certain companies already market their information stewardship as a way to increase trust in their brand.  This is often done indirectly through policy disclosures and notices to consumers.  It is also evident from certain data management tactics such as offering greater control to consumers over advertising and promotion activities, more choices over the ways their personal information might be used and identity theft protection.

Businesspeople who think there are more important things to worry about during a recession than the brand should heed the old maxim about great companies being formed during a downturn. A recent study by Bain & Company found that twice as many companies made the leap from laggards to leaders during the last recession as during surrounding periods of economic calm.   A strong brand, especially one that evokes trust and confidence during trying times, can be a tremendous business advantage.   In an article written last fall, BusinessWeek reporter Burt Helm noted that smart marketers "spend into the teeth of a recession," with some of the most successful brand campaigns in the past six decades beginning during economically challenged years.

To begin better understand the economic and brand value of protecting private information, start by looking at research done by the Ponemon Institute on the cost of a data breach. This report goes into the direct and opportunity costs incurred during a breach, and touches on the brand impact.

At PGP, we take protecting the data behind great brands seriously (at last count, we were helping to safeguard the data behind 80% of the Interbrand Top 100 Brands). We’ll be keeping an eye on the brand/encryption confluence, and are considering expanding our analysis.   We would love to hear your thoughts on the area, no matter if your forte is cryptanalysis or market analysis.