There is no question that the digital media industry has been disrupted by the Global Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR). It’s been at the top of advertising news for weeks, and while the volume of articles may decline, the impact of the law has just begun.
I used to say that consumers like ad targeting, because it ensures that we see ads that match our preferences, but I now have a more nuanced view. It’s not targeting that meets with our approval. No one likes being stalked by the slipper ad simply because we clicked it once on Facebook. Ad targeting relies too much on assumptions about past behaviors based on lookalikes and other data matching. It’s close, but very often, not. quite. right.
What we really want is personalization. To be addressed by our (correct) name when appropriate. To be presented with products that match our age, stage, and personal preferences. To be offered content (and ads) relevant to our interests.
First party data drives personalization, which is far more powerful than targeting.
Personalization is going to a store where the clerk greets you by name, asks if there is something special you want, and then offers solutions based on your answers. Targeting is the clerk stalking you through the store, thrusting products in your face based on an assessment of your “profile.”
I’ve written quite a bit about the opportunity we have to reforge better, consent-based relationships with customers in which we offer real, sustaining value for the privilege of using their personal data. Here are some ideas on what we might do.
Don’t ask users for too much or unnecessary information. Only ask for what you need to deliver value back to them. We’ve gotten so used to collecting everything under the sun, “just in case” and for targeting later marketing efforts, regardless of whether it makes sense or we have a specific use for the data. For example, buying a concert ticket. Certainly we need credit card information and the billing address to verify it. But we don’t need annual income or gender or marital status to deliver a concert ticket. We ask those questions out of habit, so the data set is complete.
GDPR requires that we inform users how we will use the data, but I recommend we do a better job than a blanket “for business purposes.” Have a reason that adds value for the consumer, especially for asks that go beyond those needed for the transaction. For example, your event is planning special activities for families with children, but to staff them appropriately, you’d like to know ages of the children attending. It’s reasonable to ask for this information during registration.
Encourage loyalty and repeat visits to your content by using the data your customers do share with you to personalize the experience. This could be as simple as customizing their “ front page” into your site with content that matches their preferences to explicitly making recommendations for products and services. Pinterest and Flipboard are examples of content platforms whose business model is built on the simple concept of consumers driving personalization by sharing their preferences to create their own contextual experience. Both have had their challenges in recent years, with the hyper-focus on third-party data, programmatic and targeting, but both will now be increasingly relevant, as brands and publishers alike start thinking about contextual distribution as an effective alternative.
Engage your community. Include the customers in the content with active experiences, not just passive viewing. Be useful and entertaining. Interactive content. Reviews. Community forums. Online focus groups and surveys. Free tools and widgets that make their lives easier. Cool stuff. Real-life events too. Remember — the reason social media works is that it is social. The media is just the vehicle for the human connection we crave. With each other and with the brands we love. The more personal the consumer’s experience is with your brand, the more you build mutual trust and utility with your content (and yes, your marketing,) the more likely your customer is to share the personal data that will improve the experience. For example, a consumer might not want to share age or income with a news or lifestyle site, but have no problem sharing it with a financial site in exchange for using a college planning tool.
Speaking of social media, use it to foster connections, distribute content and promote your brand, but do not put all your eggs in a basket owned by another. Build your audience and your customer relationships on your owned properties.
There’s going to be a lot of noise and confusion around GDPR and its impact for some time to come. I’ve already heard the expected arguments that regulation stifles innovation. While there is some merit to the argument, regulation also offers an opportunity to be innovative. To find ways to solve business problems while respecting the social good — in this case personal privacy — that the law was created to protect.
Compliance with privacy laws has costs. Simply having best practices about privacy absent regulation, which some companies like Apple already do, has costs. But the opportunity for deep, sustained customer relationships is far greater. That’s where marketers should be placing their attention.
Glass half full.
Not sure how to get started? I’d love to help you engage your customers, build loyalty and drive results for your brand with an innovative digital strategy and content ecosystem. Even better, the first hour is free. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your free consultation. I’ll give you some thought starters during our conversation, and we can go from there.