These questions are difficult to answer. But this one isn’t – does one’s interest and concern over what is posted on Facebook change from culture-to-culture? Quite simply, the answer is “yes.” At least that’s what our surveys found when we asked people across 12 countries various questions about personal privacy.
Sixty-five percent of Hong Kong citizens agree that “it’s better to be open about your problems,” compared to 50 percent of Americans and only 20 percent of Japanese. However, half of the Japanese surveyed agree that they “get embarrassed very easily,” compared to about 40 percent of Americans and only 30 percent of Hong Kong citizens.
The findings are part of a global investigation McCann Worldgroup did last year entitled: “The Truth about Privacy.” Our study involved extensive interviews across a dozen countries, followed by extended Internet surveys with about seven thousand people in the UK, US, Hong Kong, India, Chile and Japan. The research set out to understand what privacy means to people; if privacy concerns differ; and how marketers can cultivate responsible sharing.
What emerged was that people everywhere are concerned about “privacy.” However, “privacy” remains a complex, multi-dimensional issue that encompasses everything from personal, real-world snooping to sharing data online. Further, when it comes to data sharing we need to unpack the issue even more as people categorize data into different categories, i.e. shopping, location, personal, medical, and financial. People also have varying degrees of concern with sharing each type. In fact, 71 percent of consumers say they are willing to share shopping data with a brand online. Eighty-six percent of consumers say that there are major benefits associated with sharing data with businesses online while 65 percent see one of the top two benefits as better access to discounts and promotions.
Tatemae vs. Honne
In Japan, every gaijin quickly learns how important it is to sort out “honne” and “tatemae.” The former concerns a person’s true feelings and desires, which may be contrary to what is expected by society or what is required according to one’s position and circumstances. Honne is often kept hidden, shared only with one’s family or closest friends. Tatemae, on the other hand means “façade” – and is the behavior and opinions one displays in public. Tatemae is one’s public face: what is expected by society and required according to one’s position and circumstances. This public face may or may not match one’s honne.
It turns out that when it comes to how willing Japanese people are to share their points of view, their lives and their public face, they do indeed think very differently than the rest of the world. They are also very shy about exposing themselves, reflecting a long term cultural reticence to stand out.
Our survey found that Americans are cautious but more experimental to a level around the global average, while the Japanese are just shy of revealing too much about anything. We got the following results when we asked people how much they were willing to share on social media pages:
■ 50 percent of Indian people say they want as many commenting about them as possible, the global average is about 25 percent, while only 10 percent of Japanese feel that way
■ Well over 50 percent of Indian people say they love to be the center of attention. Surprisingly, only around 20 percent of Americans feel that way, but not surprisingly only around 10 percent of Japanese do
■ And while 45 percent of Indian people would like to be on a reality TV show, fewer than 10 percent of Japanese want to “get their chance.” Perhaps that helps explain why Japan is the only major market in the world where the “Idol” style of programming has never taken off
■ As for how important it is “to build a positive image of yourself online,” Americans come in around the global average of 45 percent, while Indian people are again much more likely at 70 percent and the Japanese are the least likely to agree at 25 percent
Standing Out From the Crowd
While Japanese people have embraced blogging, text messaging, twitter and social media sites like Mixi and Facebook, they show distinct beliefs as to what they are willing share. Others around the world have embraced social media sites as a way to broadcast their lives and themselves. In developing countries like India, Malaysia and Chile, we found people viewed social media as a way to advertise themselves. The reason Indians were so enthusiastic to reveal themselves was simply that they felt it was a way to get an edge in a fast changing world.
In Japan, there was a definite counter view. The relatively anonymity of being able to use tags and bios without revealing real details meant that people could feel free to voice their own thoughts without the trap of “standing out from the crowd.”
Japanese people are also more afraid of losing their security online than many others. While about 50 percent of the people we surveyed said they feared the possibility of having someone impersonate them for goods and services online, the number jumps to nearly 80 percent in Japan. So for the Japanese, sharing seems fine as long as the environment can be controlled.
Helpful Findings for Business
Here are some other findings uncovered by our research that might help business people:
Businesses need to understand the privacy value equation
For all types of companies and brands, there are four key dynamics to privacy and maintaining a proactive, productive and share-worthy relationship with consumers: control, choice, commitment and compensation are the key to assurance and trust. People want a commitment from companies that their personal data (i.e. email address, phone numbers, etc.) won’t be passed on to third parties. Globally, 55 percent of people say this is one of their top three most important criteria when deciding to trust a brand. They also want a choice about how their data will be used. About 51 percent around the world say it is important to know exactly how their data is going to be used. When it comes to control, 49 percent want to be in total command of which pieces of data they share, while the vast majority want to know what is being shared. Consumers also want compensation. They want a reason to share data and an understanding of how they will benefit. It’s no surprise that Amazon is one the most trusted brands because people can see how the company uses data to make relevant suggestions.
A Brave New World of sharing
In a world where social networking is a normal part of everyday life, people are required to spend more and more time managing their online brand. Consumers around the world admitted to multiple online personalities, on the spectrum from ‘virtuous me’ with information suitable for family and employers to ‘popular me’ where they include items intended to impress friends and social acquaintances. And this habit of “creating” different online personas was heightened in Japan. This becomes a challenge for brands which need to understand what version of their consumer they are interacting with each day.
Privacy is a two-way street
While 84 percent of consumers believe they have a total or some right to privacy, only 51 percent believe the same applies to the government. The government, it seems, must trade privacy for power. Similarly, only 57 percent of consumers believe a brand or business has a right to privacy. Sixty-five percent of consumers say a reality TV star has a right to privacy; the other 35 percent might believe that star has traded his or her private life for fame (and perhaps a cash prize). Increasingly, governments and businesses will need to recognize that privacy is a two-way street. People might be willing to share more of their personal information in order to gain benefits but they expect a greater degree of transparency in return.
The rise of the Savvy Shopper…especially in Japan
It may come as no surprise to find that when it comes to attitudes towards privacy, Japanese people have a different profile to Westerners. But the difference is actually more different than we initially thought. We identified five profiles on consumer behavior and attitude towards receiving, sharing and privacy:
■ Eager Extroverts (15 percent of the global population, less than 4 percent in Japan ) are the people most likely to want to be on a reality TV show
■ Sunny Sharers (20 percent globally, 6 percent in Japan ) are most likely to say they like receiving surprises in their “in box”
■ Savvy Shoppers (37 percent globally, 60 percent in Japan) are most likely to sign up for store loyalty cards
■ Spam Stoppers (9 percent globally, 8 percent Japan ) are most likely to want to cut off all unknown correspondence
■ Walled Worriers (19 percent globally, 22 percent Japan ) are most likely to agree that they don’t trust big business
The largest group, Savvy Shoppers, best embody a nuanced approach to this brave new world of sharing and the Japanese approach. They are willing to engage with businesses in exchange for commitment to security and compensation in the form of discounts or preferred status. A full 86 percent of all consumers globally understand that there are major benefits associated with sharing data onlineand that shopping data is the type of information they are most willing to share (71 percent of consumers globally are willing to share shopping data with a brand online). For the majority (65 percent), one of the top two benefits is better access to discounts and promotions – a very “Savvy Shopper” mentality. And this is where Japanese people show a much greater willingness for limited openness than say Americans.
So it seems that privacy is really about trade-offs. People are quickly learning that nothing is “truly private” anymore. However, at the same time, they also know that the value of privacy can be a valuable commercial tool.
So next time you read about how Japanese women carry an estimated 26 store cards for various retailers, just remember, they are very savvy shoppers. However, they might not be so keen to tell you about it.
Dave McCaughan is Director of Strategic Planning at McCann WorldGroup’s Asia Pacific office.