All Articles Marketing Digital Technology Marketers, tech firms taking steps to mesh privacy with personalization

Marketers, tech firms taking steps to mesh privacy with personalization

While technology companies and government agencies work on consumer privacy protection, here’s a look at how marketers can develop processes and work with vendors to still create targeted messaging while respecting consumers’ data.

6 min read

Digital Technology

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

For years, the mantra of marketing has been personalization.

Social media was a great way for brands to “act human” with a personality and to connect with their customers, prospects and fans. Even in the early days of e-commerce, Amazon offered recommendations based on what other customers bought when a shopper added an item to their shopping cart.

But then, brands started tracking people from one site to the next, hackers broke into servers to access customer data and privacy became a political issue.

Today, depending on age, consumers are skeptical of how brands use data. According to a Factual survey (via MarketingLand):

Baby boomers are the age group most concerned about privacy; Gen Z and millennials are the “least concerned.” However, 53% of Gen Z and 51% of millennials were either “somewhat” or “very” concerned about data privacy.

Still, “72% of consumers say they now only engage with marketing messages that personalized and tailored to their interests,” per SmartHQ.

What’s a marketer to do?

“There will always be ways to personalize messages as long as we as marketers and agencies go deeper than traditional demography. We will need to leverage first-party data and go well beyond traditional audience segmentation,” Tombras Chief Connections Officer Kevin Vanvalkenburgh says.

The Richards Group’s Analytics and Relationship Marketing/Principal Audrey Berger adds “personalization is all about relevance. To remain relevant, advertisers and agencies will need to value privacy, because it’s the only path to getting the first-party data needed to fuel personalization efforts. The data should continue to inform what you say, when, and where in order to deliver value to the consumer. Every day, we’ll have to earn the right to engage in a one-to-one way,” she says.

The way agencies and brands respond, Vanvalkenburgh says, may force them to develop more content ahead of time if they can’t customize in real-time based on users’ data.

“What is interesting to think about is how privacy could force us backwards by slowly taking away our ability to do dynamically generated content on a one-to-one basis,”  Vanvalkenburgh says, adding, “This does not mean we can’t still visually and, through copy, still show relevant faces, places and messages to more segments. We will need to create more content with even more variations as we lose the ability to know more about who the person is at the time we will serve them.”

Taking action

A number of companies are making changes to protect the privacy of those who use their services. For example:

  • By default, Mozilla’s Firefox 69 blocks cryptomining and third-party tracking cookies. (via VentureBeat)
  • Google proposed a “privacy sandbox” for Chrome that still allows publishers to determine users’ interests but puts a better lock on privacy. (via CNET)
  • Apple’s Webkit team published a “Tracking Prevention Policy” that aims to prevent various types of tracking, including “cross-site tracking, stateful tracking, covert stateful tracking, navigational tracking, fingerprinting, as well as all tracking techniques not currently known.” (via MarketingLand)
  • Ten companies – Alibaba Cloud, Arm, Baidu, Google Cloud, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Red Hat, Swisscom and Tencent – created the Confidential Computing Consortium in an effort to push for industrywide cloud security standards. (via TheNextweb)

However, The Richards Group’s Brand Media/Managing Group Head Cheryl Huckabay says there likely won’t be a single solution. “Given the technology changes by browsers and hardware providers, it’s not as simple as banking on a single solution to the law, but one that can be viable technically.

“Partners who are looking at multiple solutions to current [privacy] regulation in Europe and California and impending regulation in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Maine and New York, will likely stand the test of time. In particular, companies such as Zeta Global, The Trade Desk and Amobee are all planning multi-contingency approaches,” she says.

She adds that, “companies such as Amazon that are able to holistically own consent and operate in a privacy-first manner will continue to thrive.”

While states across the US are working on their own privacy laws and there are talks for a national policy to be adopted, data and privacy laws are still in flux for marketers.

Vanvalkenburgh says, on the government level, states are driving the issue, but he doesn’t see this as the best approach. “The federal government needs to step in when states start creating different rules for their own backyards,” he says.

“Fifty different privacy laws would be extremely difficult to manage for national and regional brands, and it would be best for all if there was a single set of regulations,” he adds.

As far as when that will happen, it won’t be soon, says The Richards Group’s Brand Media/Planner David Lee: “There will be a federal or national regulation for privacy and data, but it likely will not materialize for another year or two. Over seven federal regulations have been proposed this year alone, and they vary drastically by party as well as coverage and applications. Given that multiple Senate and House committees are holding hearings and debating the subject, the complexity of finding a middle ground – as well as impending elections – could delay anything rolling out at a national level.

“This will likely leave the industry working across a patchwork of regulations, underlining the need for agencies to have privacy experts on staff,”  Lee says.

Sea of change

In the nearly daily change of the data environments brands and agencies live in, they still have to get through their day-to-day operations.

At Tombras, Vanvalkenburgh says, “We are still big on [augmented reality] but are also looking hard and testing tech that has blockchain in it to improve transparency, reduce fraud and show us better path to conversion data.

“We are also going to the other extreme and testing attention as a metric which may help in a data privacy world that takes us backwards in the digital space to the time before programmatic and third-party cookies,” he says. “We are still bullish on programmatic and are using the Trade Desk Unified ID.”


Mike Driehorst is SmartBrief’s digital media editor, working on newsletters covering social media, advertising, agencies, interactive marketing, web design/development, multiculturalism and the auto industry.

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