How To Make Data Protection a Competitive Advantage

by Hannah Grace Holladay / April 11th, 2022

In 2022, data protection is (or should be) a top priority for any business that collects sensitive data, whether that’s personally identifiable information (PII), financial data, intellectual property, or business information. Regulatory compliance is often the primary motivation for implementing a data protection strategy. The penalties for non-compliance with HIPAA, the GDPR, PCI DSS,  the CCPA, and other data privacy regulations can damage or even destroy a small or medium business.

That is, of course, the purpose of data privacy regulations. They make the cost of non-compliance so high businesses are motivated to implement data protection best practices. However, there is another reason companies should invest in data protection: it’s great for business. 

Consumers and business decision-makers are more aware of data breach risks than ever before, and they factor a vendor’s data protection credentials into buying decisions.  Data protection is a competitive advantage, and it should be a prominent aspect of your marketing and sales strategy. 

What Is Data Protection?

Data protection is the activities and technologies an organization implements to protect data from theft, unauthorized access, and improper use. Data protection is a broad term that covers a wide range of activities, but its fundamental purpose is to establish a relationship of trust between a business and its customers. Your customers need to know that they can trust you to protect their data. 

Data privacy is one of the most prominent activities covered by the umbrella term “data protection,” but there are others, including using data only for the purposes a customer has consented to and giving customers the ability to access or delete their PII. 

Implementing data protection best practices allows businesses to comply with data protection and data privacy regulations and standards. But, just as important, it reassures customers that your company is capable of keeping their data safe while using it responsibly. 

Why Is Data Protection Important?

Data protection was not a key concern in the early days of the consumer internet, and many businesses failed to follow even rudimentary data protection best practices. But, as the web and cloud services became vital to the economy, increasing quantities of sensitive data were stored and processed by businesses. Perhaps predictably, data breaches and identity theft became common. The media’s focus on massive breaches that leaked millions of sensitive records brought the consequences of poor data protection to public attention. 

In 2022, consumers and businesses have a more sophisticated understanding of data breach risks. Most are happy to use online services, even for sensitive data. But, in return for their trust, they expect businesses to prioritize data protection and implement processes, practices, and technologies that keep data safe. Companies that can’t or won’t implement and demonstrate rigorous data protection practices are at a disadvantage relative to competitors who put data protection front and center. 

How To Use Data Protection To Gain a Competitive Advantage

To leverage the competitive advantage of data protection, it’s not enough to implement secure systems and update your website with copy that boasts: “we’re secure.” Your competitors say the same, and customers cannot verify which claims are accurate. Let’s explore a four-step process businesses can follow to implement, demonstrate, and promote their data security credentials. 

Implement Data Protection Best Practices

Most importantly, your business has to implement data protection best practices that comply with relevant regulatory standards. The details depend on the industry your company operates in, the data it stores, the data protection expectations of its customers, and many other factors. 

If your business lacks the knowledge or expertise to implement data protection best practices, we recommend consulting with a third-party data protection specialist, who will identify risks and help your business to create and implement a compliance plan. 

Create Transparent Data Protection Policies

Create and publish data protection policies that non-technical employees or customers can understand. It may be tempting to use technical or legal language, but the average customer may not understand it. Instead, explain clearly and concisely:

  • Which data you intend to collect.
  • Why you are collecting it.
  • How you will use it.
  • How you will protect it.

If there are legal reasons that compel your business to use technical language in its public-facing policies, you may want to consider publishing a parallel explanation or summary in plain English. 

You may also want to explain the customers’ obligations to protect their data. For example, cloud platforms such as Amazon have well-explained data protection policies, but they make it clear that data protection is a shared responsibility

Demonstrate Your Data Protection Capabilities with Information Security Audits

How do your customers know you keep your data protection promises? It’s easy to say data protection is a priority, but it’s hard for customers to verify businesses are fulfilling their obligations. If you’d asked the companies behind the biggest data breaches of recent years whether they take data protection seriously, they would have said, “Of course, we do!”

The standard solution to this problem is a third-party audit. Businesses ask a neutral third party with information security and data protection expertise, like KirkpatrickPrice, to examine and report on data protection controls. Audits are carried out with reference to an accepted framework, and auditing methods are standardized. Consequently, the business and its customers can be confident that a third-party audit reflects the reality of the auditee’s data protection implementation. 

Audits can be carried out with reference to many different security standards and regulatory frameworks, including:

Compliance audits verify the business complies with a specific framework or standard, highlight control gaps and opportunities to improve data protection, and provide a report that demonstrates security and compliance capabilities to potential customers and partners. 

Make Data Protection a Foundation of Your Brand

The next step is to make sure prospective customers know your information security, data protection, and data privacy stances. In some industries, business customers will ask vendors whether they comply with standards such as SOC 2 as a matter of course—it’s part of their compliance procedure. However, as data protection becomes increasingly important to all customers, it should be mentioned alongside your business’s other value propositions in marketing and sales materials. 

Opportunities to highlight data protection and compliance audit certificates include:

  • In sales copy on your website, including case studies, blog articles, and one-pagers.
  • In sales enablement content and sales professional training. Your sales team should emphasize data protection and privacy as key benefits. 
  • On social media, in email marketing, and in content marketing efforts. 

In short, businesses should take every opportunity to highlight the link between their services and superior data protection and information security.

Partner With KirkpatrickPrice to Implement Data Protection Practices That Are Best for Your Business

KirkpatrickPrice is a licensed CPA firm specializing in information security compliance audits and related services, including penetration testing, security awareness training, and risk assessments. To learn more about data protection and compliance audits, contact our security and compliance specialists