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Consumers Cite Security Issues

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LOS ANGELES Marketers should pay more attention to consumer security concerns, which ranked fourth behind product quality, customer service and company ethics in terms of driving sales, according to a study released today by the CMO Council.

"Not only are consumers' concerns rising about identity theft and computer security, but they're starting to do something about it," said Scott Van Camp, editorial director at the CMO Council in Palo Alto, Calif., which represents some 2,200 chief marketing officers worldwide.

The study, "Securing the Trust in Your Brand," found that 43 percent of American consumers have stopped a transaction in progress because of misgivings over security, usually when retailers ask for information they don't wish to divulge. Fifty-nine percent of those respondents said that after a security breach they would "strongly consider" or "definitely" take their business elsewhere.

The BPM Forum, Factiva and Symantec sponsored the study, which was conducted in April and May and surveyed 1,037 U.S. and 1,203 European consumers.

Overall, 60 percent of domestic consumers said they were "a little" (25 percent), "more" (23 percent) or "very" (12 percent) concerned about security.

In fact, the study found that U.S. consumers were more worried about identity theft and fraud than terrorism and personal safety. European consumers ranked family safety higher.

Few brands have found a way to exploit better security as a competitive advantage, and only a third of those surveyed rated companies highly when it came to communicating their commitment to security. Despite their concerns, few consumers could name a most or least trusted brand.

"When we asked which service brand has the most trusted reputation, you got answers across the board," Van Camp said. "There are no proven leaders, so there is an opportunity here to differentiate through marketing and messaging."

Van Camp said he expects to see more security-driven campaigns, such as the well-known Citibank ads that focus on preventing identity theft.

"You'll see more of that, brands getting the word out that they are concerned," he said.

Financial institutions, hospitals and law enforcement agencies were ranked as most trustworthy; online retailers, telecommunications/wireless companies were considered least trustworthy, according to the study.

The survey found that domestic consumers are apparently affected by media coverage of security issues. In answer to the question, "What topic being covered by the media has the most impact on the way you think about security?" respondents ranked identity theft and fraud (31 percent) at the top, ahead of international terrorism (13 percent), crime statistics (11 percent) and national policies (10 percent).

Domestic consumers claimed high levels of personal experience, with 53 percent reporting lost or compromised personal, financial or medical information; and 60 percent saying they had experienced computer security breaches such as hacking, viruses or spyware. Also, 60 percent of Americans reported receiving fraudulent e-mails, such as those purportedly from a financial institution.