As data privacy concerns mount among regulators, advertisers need to prepare while continuing to meet consumer demands. Resulticks’ Redickaa Subrammanian explores the options for brands.

A shift in data privacy management is sweeping Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms. They are addressing the data they have and enacting measures that will change how they use data in the future. By and large, these actions are being applauded, but advertisers want to know (rightfully) how it will impact their marketing plans and, more tellingly, their understanding of customers.

In addition, marketers need to figure out how to meet customers’ demands for greater personalisation, without sharing too much personal information. Given these tighter conditions, will brands and marketers still be able to build comprehensive customer profiles or accurately executed targeted marketing campaigns?

How tech companies are protecting user privacy

To understand the impact, it’s necessary to examine the underlying driver behind the change in data policies, which is to give consumers more control over their data – particularly the type that tracks activity online.

The most recent and well-known example is Facebook’s ‘Clear History’ tool, which allows users to wipe the information Facebook has collected about them from third-party apps. Google’s efforts are slightly more muted, but no less significant. Through an upcoming browser update for Google Chrome, the search giant will more tightly limit how cookies track users between sites by providing users more control over clearing certain types of cookies, even while still logged into the services.

But of the three major technology companies under fire, Apple has arguably taken the most decisive step, rolling out new hardware that greatly limits the ability of the tech giant and external bodies to access user information.

These initiatives are critical to rebuilding trust – especially when one considers that 60% of people, according to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer Report, no longer trust social media companies.

But data breaches and leaks come from more than social media –  have experienced data hacks that affected millions of people, angering users and sparking even more intense scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers around the world.

Implications for brands

On the face of it, many brands have thrown their support behind these initiatives, but losing vast sources of data is a huge loss for organisations that rely on it to make money. Increased privacy also means brands have less visibility on their target audiences’ journeys to purchase, making personalised marketing harder to execute with precision.

Essentially, this means brands need to pivot away from solely relying on second- and third-party data that is managed by other platforms and build a stronger reliance on data they collect themselves. 

While this could be viewed as a challenge, the opportunities are far greater – especially since the most tangible benefit consumers have for sharing their data with companies is a personalised experience. This means walking the fine line between impersonal and overly-familiar marketing that can ultimately feel “creepy”. Being able to locate this line is extremely important, as  found 80% of consumers want personalisation, while  discovered 75 percent of consumers find many forms of marketing personalisation “creepy”.

To achieve a balance, brands need to place customer trust, privacy and transparency at the core of any marketing initiative. Those that actively and tangibly showcase this stand to gain more customer goodwill than brands that remain passive about privacy initiatives.  For example, when the Singapore Health Promotion Board partnered with Fitbit, the brand took a proactive stance in addressing  privacy, nipping concerns surrounding the data generated in the bud.

This can be communicated to your customers by being upfront about what information a brand is collecting and how the data will be used. Arguably, one of the “creepiest” forms of marketing is when customers get a targeted ad based on information that they did not directly give to that brand. Think about the last time you received an Instagram ad based off an in-real-life conversation, for instance. It’s a common enough occurrence that you may take it in stride, but also can be jolting enough that you end up looking to update your privacy settings.

This respect for customer data can be reflected through brands giving customers more control over what is shared, as well as ensuring it is used to provide more tangible value to them. While this does sometimes mean customers will receive relevant ads for various products and services, it also opens an avenue to use data to provide value-added services. For example, based on a customer’s past orders, a brand could share information on how to use the products they have bought more effectively.

Aside from these more customer-centric initiatives, brands can also adopt tools and techniques to help build a more comprehensive picture of a customer’s journey. According to research by Resulticks, nearly 40% of SEA brands feel as if they have too much data to manage, 38% struggle with poor data integration across systems, and a 35% indicate their customer data across all channels is incomplete.

This implies many brands are still struggling with the first step in building a comprehensive customer journey, which is to create a fully integrated data pool that data analytics and automation platforms can draw from.

Figure 1: What are the main cahllenges that prevent you from carrying out effective omnichannel marketing across different channels?

To address this, brands can appoint a team to look at customer data across functions, allowing them to better “join the dots” and consolidate audience data collected through their websites, owned blogs and apps.   

To take this integration to the next level, brands can also consider leveraging an external data management platform (DMP), which can better integrate data by recognising visitors across any touchpoint, without over-reliance on any single source of data. With such a system in place, customer experiences can remain seamless, regardless of the channel or touchpoint.

All in all, an effective digital marketing strategy should never rely solely on any single source of data. In the quest for a better understanding of the customer journey, third-party platforms and tools that consolidate multiple datasets are proving to be a real alternative for brands. Best case scenario: these new developments represent a levelling of the digital marketing playing field. Worst case scenario: the conversation around data and security is fast becoming best practice – as it should be.