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October 01, 2018

By Hamish McCollester, SVP, Group Creative Director, RAPP LA

Web-based security breaches aren’t the only concern among consumers worried that their personal data isn’t so personal anymore. Thanks to legislation like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which went into effect last May, people are demanding that companies treat their private information more delicately than ever.

What does that mean for businesses accustomed to farming big data to customize messaging and to start intimate discussions with prospects and clients? In essence, marketers must weed out the unnecessary data from the relevant. Otherwise, they risk turning off buyers who feel more stalked than served. 

On the heels of GDPR, some data-focused entities like Klout simply threw in the towel, ostensibly unwilling to make changes. However, companies don’t have to give up in order to give in to the reality of when tracking a customer goes too far.

Finding the data sweet spot without crossing a line
Every brand has a unique relationship with customers. Take Amazon. The company knows plenty about everyone who purchases, which is why the retail giant can make highly specific suggestions for future buys. Yet most people aren’t crying for Amazon’s head; they’re accepting of the website’s tracking mechanisms because they receive something valuable in return.

The same is true for personal genetic testing companies like 23andMe or Clearly, those organizations maintain highly personal data, but they’re both regulated and ethically beholden to safeguard and anonymize information such as DNA and heritage. Plus, buyers accept that in return for giving up their personal data, they'll get something they deeply want.

To be sure, all brands must determine what their value exchange is with customers. They must also be open when it comes to talking about what data is actually being gathered. Of course, this isn’t happening en masse.

According to Choozle’s “2018 Digital Advertising Trends Survey,” 63 percent of participants acknowledge that companies curate and sell their data, but only 44 percent can name what the data is. RAPP’s own U.S. Privacy and Permissions Study of 2016 showed 77 percent of consumers felt confused as to what data companies retained about them.

In other words, people realize that data mining is happening, but they don’t want, or deserve, to be blindsided by “creepy” advertising.

Overcoming challenges in a data-laden dynamic
Ironically, this problem just feels new. Customers have always wanted both privacy and personalization. The difference now is that everything’s transparent. It’s actually a positive for brands — not a negative — because it opens the doors for marketers to invite customers into the conversation about data collection and usage.

For example, 81 percent of Americans in one Deloitte study felt they had no control over their data, yet 79 percent were fine with sharing if they saw an advantage. Using this information, companies can follow the proactive actions of other organizations. For instance, the automotive industry has adopted a set of privacy principles that give customers a feeling of confidence. This has opened a door of deeper understanding.

Of course, simply telling a population it’s being watched isn’t good enough; the communication has to be a give-and-take experience. Case in point: China is taking data mining to Orwellian levels. The Chinese government has made it clear that it’s watching every digital and social move that happens within its country. Unsurprisingly, this unabashed data collecting has caught the attention of human-rights activists internationally.

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