The Intersection of Personalization & Privacy: How to Communicate with Consumers

Consumers expect to get whatever they want, whenever they want it, delivered how they want it. You can credit (or blame) Amazon for setting expectations so high, but those same expectations extend to online publishing and marketing.

[Editor’s note: While this is geared toward the publishing audience in language, there are numerous valuable takeaways for marketers.]

Consumers expect to get whatever they want, whenever they want it, delivered how they want it. You can credit (or blame) Amazon for setting expectations so high, but those same expectations extend to online publishing.

Increasingly, publishers must personalize to thrive — a mission that can be at odds with new privacy mandates.

What Exactly Do Consumers Expect?

Virtually every publisher now promises customized content, but that promise can mean a few different things. On the one hand, it’s a promise to deliver a certain type of content that’s tailored to your reader’s individual interests. But it also means a promise to deliver content according to that person’s consumption preferences for device/channel (desktop, mobile, or tablet/website, social, or email).

Publishers deliver on these promises through a variety of features. Notifications that push to a consumer’s preferred device are one popular way to meet audiences on the most personal level. Likewise, social integration (both as commenting platforms and logins) is now seen as essential because it not only customizes the experience, but also makes it friction-less.

But, as publishers are well aware, building these features and executing personalization strategies takes significant resources that aren’t necessarily part of the core business.

Brands Are Doing the Same Thing with More Resources

While brands and publishers typically sit on opposite sides of the media ecosystem, their challenge is the same when it comes to personalization. Publishers and advertisers must both deliver the right message to the right person, at the right time. Tellingly, brands and publishers have tackled this challenge in different ways.

By and large, brands and bigger media companies have taken this kind of work in-house. But most small and medium-sized publishers have gone in the opposite direction, turning to agencies and vendors to navigate the complexities of data analytics, personalization, and monetization.

These are technical and costly undertakings. Small publishers may struggle because of limited expertise, but even big publishers may prefer to invest in content rather than building in-house technology. And just finding, vetting, and holding vendors accountable is a challenge for many publishers.

But regardless of how publishers solve for personalization, the brand context is important because well-resourced brands are setting the bar for consumer expectations here. As privacy compliance adds layers of complexity to personalization, brands and publishers will have to adapt to perform the same mission, albeit with varying levels of resources.

Personalization Is the Crucible of Privacy Chaos

To understand how personalization and privacy intersect, start with a fundamental question: How do I personalize something for you if I don’t know anything about you?

The question illustrates the tension between personalization and privacy. The more consumers share, the greater the level of personalization. Of course, the opposite is also true. If you don’t want to share anything personal, be prepared to accept the generic experience.

While that may sound like common sense, the reality is that publishers are stuck in a bind. You must reconcile the chaos that comes from a patchwork of state-mandated privacy laws — including California’s CCPA, plus laws in 10 other states — with consumer expectations that value privacy on the one hand and expect seamless, personalized experiences on the other. To be clear, there’s no “right answer,” in part because just as personalization preferences vary by individual, so, too, do our feelings about privacy.

Publishers, perhaps better than any other stakeholder, are uniquely positioned to lead this conversation. After all, consumers seek out publishers because they are trusted sources. But when it comes to explaining the tradeoffs between personalization and privacy, publishers usually fall back on their lawyers. That can be a mistake. Instead of relying fully on lawyers, publishers should communicate with their consumers in a clear, authentic voice. Here are some suggestions:

  • Speak in your brand’s voice. Typically, conversations that touch on the tradeoff between personalization and privacy get off to a bad start because privacy policies are written in a foreign language called legalese. Using your brand voice is more effective because it’s authentic. If your brand is edgy or sarcastic, talk about privacy with an edgy or sarcastic tone. Two examples: 1) Fitbit’s privacy policy is written in easy to navigate bullet points for users who may not have the time to take a deep-dive into the brand’s Terms of Service; 2) Apple’s privacy, which is quite in-depth, is written in the same easy-to-understand language Apple uses for its product copy.
  • Tell people what information you want and why you need it. A concept like “personally identifiable information” means a lot to lawyers, but it’s not something consumers think about in their daily lives. Instead, make specific asks for email, social media, or cookies and then explain why you need that information. Be clear that your product might not work as advertised unless the user shares some private information. The key is context. If you want movie screening times “near you,” for example, we need to know your location. Instead of just asking for a user’s location, say something like, “Tell us where you are so we can find a movie near you.”
  • Explain how the consumer benefits in concrete terms. If you’re using language like “so we can best serve you…” you’re being too vague. Instead, state the value proposition directly. Explain how you want to serve the consumer by telling them what they can expect — content tailored to their interests, timely notifications, etc. When you do that, you empower the consumer to make their own informed choices about the tradeoffs between privacy and personalization.
  • If you plan to share someone’s information with a third-party, be upfront about it. Reserving the right to share consumer data with third-party partners sounds like legalese, but it also sounds like you’re hiding something. There are valid reasons to share data with others. Tell consumers why you’re sharing their data, who you’re sharing it with, and how the opt-out works.

Navigating these delicate waters will be challenging, but putting the time and energy into incorporating your brand identity into privacy compliance will pay for itself in the long run. Your users will appreciate the effort and better personalization, and you will (hopefully) have stronger user connections and fewer people opting out.

How to Consider the Buyer’s Journey, Not Just the Channel

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

Credit: Getty Images by Photo-Dave

We are obviously living in a multichannel marketing environment, whether we are marketers or consumers. Every conceivable channel is being optimized for marketing, and in a capitalistic society, that is only natural.

Someone has to pay for the maintenance of media channels, and marketers want to reach their target audiences through them. Voila! Demand meets supply, and the whole ecosystem is in perpetual motion.

So much so that many marketing organizations are organized by key media channels. The No. 1 reason many datasets are in silos? It is because data collected through different channels are hogged by the managers of those channels.

So the biggest hurdle towards a true 360-degree customer view is not the technology or lack of data, but the fact that interests of different channel managers do not meet in a common place, without heavy nudging from CEOs or CMOs. That is why I’ve been repeatedly saying that the first step towards proper data-readiness for advanced 1:1 marketing is the commitment from the top.

That being the reality, service providers — whether be data compilers, database designers, CRM experts, analytics experts or campaign specialists — must comply with the channel-centric environment, which is unfortunately the source of inadequate 1:1 targeting and personalization.

With all the technologies available today, why do you think that consumers keep getting similar or conflicting offers from the same organization? It’s because each channel manager acts like she “owns” the names of buyers who touched “her” channel. Let’s just say that is the exact opposite of customer-centric marketing.

Further, it gets even more complicated, as each channel exists not only on different plains, but on different spots on the timeline of customer journey.

What is customer journey? If I make a typical B2C engagement an example (because there are so many versions of this concept out there), it may follow these high-level steps:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Trial
  4. Repeat
  5. Loyalty

If this were for B2B, we may consider “Decision” and “Action” as separate steps, but the general idea of a customer journey is not all that different.

Now, the important point here is that these phases may or may not converge nicely with the “marketer’s journey,” which may look like:

  1. Acquisition
  2. Relationship Development
  3. Retention
  4. Win-back

Clearly, awareness and interest stages are closely related to acquisition; but after the purchase, we are moving into the CRM area from the marketer’s point of view, where cross-sell/up-sell, value-based targeting, various retention and anti-churn prevention measures, and win-back efforts come into play. Some actions go way past repeat and loyalty stages from the buyer’s side.

Now, add all the channels on top of this combination. No wonder there are lots of conflicts among channel managers. Who owns what stage of the game? Maybe that is just a wrong way to approach all of this.

Homework for Marketers

I’d say marketers should start with the customer’s journey first. Not just in the name of customer-centric marketing, but for practical reasons, too. So, list five customer journey phases on the left-hand side on a piece of paper.

Then, let’s write down proper marketer’s effort categories, from acquisition to win-back.

Next to it, put down data assets and technologies that you have available for each stage. You will find that distinctly different types of data and technologies should be applied to each.

For instance, third-party data are important for acquisition and win-back stages, due to lack of behavioral and transaction data. Conversely, to build proper cross-sell/up-sell, customer value or churn prevention models, you will need to use rich transaction and interaction history with your customers. Then of course, technology that you need to employ would be different for each stage.

Then, only then, write down proper media channels that would be best utilized for each stage of your marketing efforts.

For example, in the acquisition stage, where only third-party data and non-transactional data are available, what would be the best acquisition channel for you to employ? Catalog? Postcard? Email? Social media? General media?

For relationship-building and retention efforts, yes, email is the dominant one; but should it be the only one? Let’s not just settle on one channel, just because it is readily available and less costly. If you have all of the rich transaction and response data, why not use direct marketing, with rather fancy catalogs or First Class mail? Surely, with such powerful data, we can build proper targeting models to make those more expensive channels worthwhile.

Turning Marketing on Its Head

The key message here is to reverse the way we think about our channels, and shake the whole marketing ecosystem up.

I got into a heated debate with one of my colleagues the other day about this. Many digital marketers think that the journey begins at the moment a visitor lands on a website or types in a search word (refer to “Customer Journeys Don’t Start on Your Website”).

Before someone magically shows up on some site, there had to be other efforts to raise awareness and pique interest for that visitor. It could have been a banner, billboard, TV, radio, magazine, paper or more targeted media, such as direct mail, catalogs or email. All of those channels play different roles in different stages of both customer’s journey and the marketer’s journey.

Multichannel or Omnichannel concepts have been around for a long time; but to rise above the channel-centric mindset that hampers effective customer communication, markers must be aware of the timeline view, as well.

In fact, as I described in the body of this article, you may have to reverse the whole process, and see it from the timeline view first, and then assign proper channels to each stage. Otherwise, how would you ever escape from channel silos?

Understand and Optimize the Value of (Third-Party) Data for ’Growth’

With DMA’s &Then18 in Las Vegas taking place this past week, I may report that the transformation from “direct marketing” to “data-driven marketing” is complete, and that the disruption of marketing overall, in all its forms, continues to accelerate. Third-party data, for growth, is a marketing trend we’ll discuss here, too.

With DMA’s &Then18 in Las Vegas taking place this past week, I may report that the transformation from “direct marketing” to “data-driven marketing” is complete, and that the disruption of marketing overall, in all its forms, continues to accelerate. Third-party data, for growth, is a marketing trend we’ll discuss here, too.

DMA, a division of Association of National Advertisers, now represents mastery in “Data Marketing & Analytics” and the conference curricula certainly emphasized the present and future of data-inspired marketing. No time for tears and nostalgia, we all have work to do. Yes, direct marketing has provided the foundation and discipline for data-driven marketing to flourish — testing, measurement, accountability — but with the speed, sources and size of data, it’s clearly a new day.

Brands (ANA) are now firmly focused on data and measurement (ANA’s ownership of DMA). As one big family, the conference opened with a hefty statement from ANA President & CEO Bob Liodice and DMA Group Executive VP Tom Benton about why all this matters: “Growth.”

If we’re not disrupting, we’re being disrupted — and probably we’re being disrupted, anyway. Growth does not belong to the hesitant. Still, being agile doesn’t mean being foolish, it means being “fuelish” — understanding the data you have and acting on the insights data, the fuel, presents. Perhaps this is good reason why Bonin Bough served as emcee for the conference. His in-your-face energy reflects the energy in Data Marketing & Analytics that must be unleashed for desired business outcomes to be achieved.

It’s not so easy.

Data sits in silos. Enterprises have legacy systems. New marketing technology doesn’t easily interact with these systems, if at all. Data goes stale. Data isn’t trusted. Quality may be elusive. Integration raises conflicts. And well-meaning but ill-advised privacy regimes, as public policy, could tank responsible data flows.

Use Data Wisely, Responsibly and With Confidence

One focus in programming was a needed one: how to make sure brands access and use data with confidence.

Matt Tipperreiter, senior product strategy director at Experian Marketing Services, presented an enterprising perspective on “data4good.” This was not about social good and cause marketing. It was about providing a professional approach to pursue quality, actionability and best for first-party data management, third-party data sourcing, identity profiles and single customer view, campaign and media activation. I’ve included this image that speaks to this helpful construct.

DMA talks third-party data for growth
Photo taken at DMA, a division of ANA &Then 2018 Conference, Experian Marketing Services Talks Data4Good. | Credit: Chet Dalzell by Experian Marketing Services

Another panel included data experts from Alliant, Dun & Bradstreet, FCB Chicago, LiveRamp and Stirista — which examined third-party data, in particular. [Disclosure: I have a client relationship with two of these companies.]

Of late, brands have expressed some concern with their planned use of both online and third-party data. In research from the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, “The CMO Survey,” nearly 12 percent report they are likely to decrease third-party data use in the coming two years — while six in 10 will maintain a steady commitment. If brands and businesses are truly committed to growth — as ANA and DMA maintain — then they must not abandon reliance on third-party data. All the first-party data in the world cannot provide a whole view of the customer — at least one that can enable smarter decisions about audience targeting and understanding.

“The customer must be the central focus — not the data, not the technology,” said Josh Blacksmith, SVP, General Manager — CRM, FCB Chicago. While brands are sacred, the audience is more sacred.

I’ve maintained that without third-party data, customer growth in an efficient manner is much less likely. So it is imperative that data providers tackle brand safety and brand confidence concerns with third-party data for growth — which is most often tackled through data due diligence, testing and proof of concepts, and a commitment to data quality.

‘Data Label’ Me Transparent

Right on cue, another panel explored the new data labeling initiative by ANA (DMA) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau Tech Lab, among others. Currently, the marketplace is being asked to provide comment on the proposed label [label sample available at the link] that the working group has put forward. The goal is to increase transparency as to the source of commercially available data, and to give an apples-to-apples view for such data.

Finally, making the greatest business case for data marketing and analytics expertise is showcased in this year’s ANA International ECHO Awards. Congratulations are in order for all this year’s finalists and winners. DMA members have access to a brief synopsis of each winning campaign, but anyone is free to read of them online here.

The next ECHO Awards presentation is slated for the next ANA Data Marketing & Analytics conference, March 2, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. See you there!

But Your Data Is Fine, Trust Me …

Data … that great big, hairy gorilla in marketing departments all across the globe. We have Legacy Data, Subscriber Data, Third-Party Data, Business Data, Personal Data, Master Data, Sales Data, Reference Data, Privacy Data, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Now, during the last few years, the latest and greatest—Big Data and its cousin SoMoBi (SocialMobileBig) data have entered the fray enough to make everyone’s head spin.

Data … that great big, hairy gorilla in marketing departments all across the globe. We have Legacy Data, Subscriber Data, Third-Party Data, Business Data, Personal Data, Master Data, Sales Data, Reference Data, Privacy Data, etc., etc., ad nauseum. Now, during the last few years, the latest and greatest—Big Data and its cousin SoMoBi (SocialMobileBig) data have entered the fray enough to make everyone’s head spin.

No matter what you want to call it though, it just boils down to simple information. Information all you marketers crave. Information about your customer, your prospects, your products, your competitors and the trends that will steer you to hitting those numbers in the next and future fiscal quarters.

There is just so much of it, you say? No one here knows what to do with it, I hear? Every department controls a piece of it and refuses to share, is the excuse?

Maybe true. But, with a little time, effort and—of course—some of those ever-scarce budget dollars, you can create an environment where the grain can be separated from the chaff to build a healthy and robust universal silo of data which will benefit and streamline the efforts of every area of your organization efficiently and profitably.

There is no cookie-cutter data model for the business needs of every organization, despite the host of plug-and-play database tools and marketing automation processes available today. The information that makes your business research and marketing program successful is likely to be much different from what works for even your closest competitor.

At the core, your primary contact data for customers and prospects needs to be acquired and maintained as strictly as possible. My good friend, Bernice Grossman, along with fellow direct marketing legend Ruth Stevens, have a whitepaper I always refer to when providing guidance to anyone striving to establish or reorganize the variety of information that quickly begins to accumulate from different sources, in multiple disparate formats. Written as a guide for B-to-B organizations, the reasons and methodologies hold true for B-to-C. Even with the changes in data availability and the explosive growth of social data availability in the industry during the last few years, the white paper addresses the core data requirements for contact and communication.

Outside of the core basics of data needed to contact, track and segment your data pool, determining exactly what it is that gives you the edge is Priority One in deciding what else you must have available to make decisions. In every conversation or discovery session around data and database design within a CRM, the persistent desire that comes up is wanting a “full 360-degree view of my customers.” While that is possible with simply the basic contact information you have as the core of your data, along with whatever historical transactions available to provide RFM, most users expect a much deeper dive. At the more extreme illustration of designing your data around the optimal user experience, you have this infographic from that has been making the social media rounds. While extensive, the many comments on the sites where it has been posted point to even more data sources being needed to be all-encompassing.

If you, and your business goals, are like most, your time and budget is more likely going to place your need somewhere between the most basic and the most extravagant of these two extremes.

Discovering your own sweet spot is where the best value proposition is to create and maintain profitability for your business. That is where I hope to focus in the posts that will follow on a regular basis. I will be sharing points of interest, ideas, solutions and strategies for identifying the most accurate and efficient steps to take in planning the housing and process flow of all the data you need for success … with a dose of irreverence sprinkled in liberally along the way.