Today’s marketers work with vast amounts of data — so much information, it’s hard to truly picture it.
Brands know where you live, who your friends are, where you went to school. They know you’re watching YouTube videos when you’re supposed to be at work. That you looked at a picture of an ex in the middle of the night, and for how long.
According to Statista, in 2021, global internet users generated more than 216 exabytes of data per day. To put that into perspective, your average home computer holds 500 gigabytes of data, and 1 exabyte = 1,073,741,824 gigabytes.
This information, sought out by businesses, gets fed into AI systems, allowing them to predict with high accuracy how a person will behave. Those systems then make actionable recommendations to prod a customer to click more, read longer and/or purchase a product or service. In essence, it changes peoples’ perceptions and actions surrounding a brand.
Data fueling results-driven digital marketing. Sounds good, right? Not exactly.
The State of Data Privacy
For marketers, the mechanics behind the machine, so to speak — data collection, use and storage — were mostly visible.
Kristina Podnar, digital consultant and author of “The Power of Digital Policy,” is a dot com pioneer. She worked on UNICEF’s first trick-or-treat online campaign and helped build the St. Jude website.
Podnar realized early on that data collection efforts seemed off. “We were doing kind of crazy things, they were highly risky, and nobody was really paying attention to how much risk we were taking on because it was just sorta something new…” she said.
Now, however, users are catching on to that risk. And the more they learn, the angrier they get. The result? Consumers are more distrustful of brands than ever before.
In a 2021 survey conducted by KPMG, 86% of people said they were concerned about data privacy, and 68% were uneasy about the amount of information collected. Some 30% said they won’t share personal data for any reason.
In a 2020 report by Edelman, 53% of people cited trust as the second most important factor when it comes to purchasing decisions — and enterprise brands rolling out new privacy-focused features, like Google’s third-party cookie decree — brands that fail to adapt could face major problems.
4 Ways Marketers Can Adopt a Privacy-First Mindset
This shift towards privacy-first isn’t just a trend — it will alter the digital marketing landscape permanently.
According to Quimby Melton, co-founder & CEO of Confection, a privacy-focused data generator, that mindset stems from the bad information that exists on privacy-first strategy. “You can be cookie-free and still have tremendous exposure to privacy-first disruptions,” explained Melton.
Other disruptions could arise from cross-domain scripts, device IDs and, now, Apple’s new IP address restrictions, which will mask user IP addresses so they can’t be linked to other online activity or be used to pinpoint location.
It may seem like the industry is facing some insurmountable problems. Is there a solution to the privacy vs. personalization dilemma? Can marketers stay relevant without creeping out their customers? Experts say yes.
Look at Trustworthy Brands
Have you ever had to solve a problem so big you didn’t know where to start? If you’re a marketer, this might be your state of mind right now. How do you tackle a problem that only seems to grow larger every day?
To start, take a cue from brands that customers trust.
According to a Morning Consult report from 2021, the top eight most trusted brands are:
Do some research into these organizations’ data strategies. Interact with their websites and seek them out on social media.
Doing this type of field research, you’ll learn what type of information they collect, how much data access they offer users, the level of transparency provided and how users get notified about data collection and privacy.
Take notes and consider how you can adapt and apply these tactics to your own privacy-first strategy. Don’t, however, fall into the trap of copying and pasting from a competitor. “If you’re a start-up, you’re not going to have the same policies — nor should you — as IBM, for example. And IBM can’t be pretending to be a startup, because they’re not,” said Podnar.
Despite what’s working for other companies, you’ll need to right-size strategies for your organization.
Related Article: What Trustworthy and Transparent Marketing Looks Like Now
Create a Digital Policy
Your next step is to create a digital data policy that covers every potential situation, such as cookies, copyrights, data breaches, spam and online piracy. A good policy is one that provides guidance to workers, allowing them to streamline operations and boost customer satisfaction.
According to Podnar, there are eight key areas your data policy should address:
Accountability and governance: Select a person to be in charge of managing data in a way that respects end-users
Consent and processing: Understand what data you’re collecting, how it’s used and how it’s passed on to third parties
Notifications and data rights: Create written notices that are clear and easy to understand, taking into consideration varying education levels
Privacy by design: Actively think about privacy design when developing services and tools
Data breach notification: Determine how and when you will notify users of data breaches, and your plans for mitigating loss
Data localization: Understand exactly where your data is stored — is it leaving places like China or the EU? — and prioritize neutral servers
Contracting and procurement: Marketers should work with other departments, including third-party vendors, to ensure privacy is part of all products and services.
Children’s online privacy: How will you address the data of underage persons? Consider scenarios like “Take Your Kid to Work Day” and co-workers sharing photos on Slack.
Remember, it’s not merely about getting this information down on paper. It’s about creating a system that employees actively use. “If people don’t actually understand and apply your policies, they’re worth not even the paper they’re written on,” said Podnar.
Take a Holistic Approach
Brands collect a lot of data — and that’s not always a good thing.
According to data from Jebbit, 35% of consumers said asking for too much information was the number one reason to distrust a brand.
And what do brands do with all this data, anyway? Do they use all of it? Probably not. In fact, the data deluge could make it harder for marketers to pick out actionable metrics.
According to Melton, one solution to this multi-pronged problem is taking a holistic approach to your marketing analytics stack.
Take a look at all of the data your company collects and make sure all the pieces are still feeding information to one another, even as we move toward a time where we can’t rely on third-party cookies or cross-domain scripts, advised Melton.
With this approach, you can visualize how your data streams connect and trim away the excess, simplifying insight processes and optimizing your overall company strategy.
You can apply this holistic strategy to a full-blown data audit, too, which looks at the usefulness — rather than quantity — of the data you collect for meeting specific goals. An audit might include determining the origin of the information, how accurate it is, how it’s stored, who has access to it and how it’s used.
Give People More Control
Another way to satisfy customers while boosting in-house operations? By giving power back to the people.
“There's a real business case to be made for giving people more control over their information, because why would you want to market to someone who doesn't want to buy your product?” asked Melton. “Why would you want to spend time to house that information, have your sales team work on those people, why would you want to do anything like that?”
Not only does giving power back to users result in an efficiency gain, but it also means the collection of higher-quality data — both significant boons for busy brands.
What does user control over data look like? On a simple scale, it could mean allowing users to fine-tune their preferences, such as:
The type of content they want to see
How often they want brands to communicate with them
What days and times they prefer to receive communications
Best channels for brands to communicate with them
In a more advanced setup, user control might mean a system, such as a CRM or customer data platform, that allows users to directly control and update their information on a granular level.
Related Article: How Will Web3 Improve the Customer Experience?
The Future of Data Privacy in Marketing
We’re in a strange in-between period when it comes to data privacy, with some brands prioritizing the issue and others still playing fast and loose. As a result, we’re sure to witness many stumbles in the near future.
Marketers have already encountered significant data collection disruptions since 2017 and, according to Melton, we’re likely to see plenty more. He predicts that the future of digital marketing will see privacy-first strategies that emphasize data ownership.
“I think when we look back from the 2030s, we're going to say there was a real BC/AD (Before Christ/After Death) moment there, where we went from essentially renting data … in terms of using systems and accessing data on demand, to owning data.”
Could this shift to information ownership, when paired with other privacy-first tactics, be the long-term solution needed to assuage people’s concerns? Only time will tell.