How privacy has become the new competitive advantage in a world of personalisation

It is almost a year since GDPR came into effect, and what started life as another annoying EU regulation has become a global catalyst for change. Perhaps its most unexpected consequence has been to shine a light and expose the often questionable - but at the same time highly profitable - practices of big tech’s data-by-stealth business model.

GDPR marked out some boundaries that until last May had been poorly defined and hardly ever policed, allowing a barrier-free, fertile digital landscape for big tech’s personal data land-grab.

From cookies in browsers to mapping social media behaviour, trawling personal contacts, tracking where you go and even what you say, big tech had turned consumers into products whose profiles they sold to advertisers, often without explicit consent. Now, what once seemed like innocuous personal data collection practices, are taking on a whole new meaning which many consumers are becoming wary of.

Behavioural data had become the oil of the data economy and it is clear that until the advent of GDPR, it had been exploited at every opportunity.

Curtailing the productisation of consumers by big tech has left marketers with the dilemma of fulfilling consumers’ expectation of personalisation without infringing their privacy rights. This has ushered in a much-needed shift to move beyond viewing data protection and consent as mere compliance issues, to re-framing marketers’ relationship with consumers.

An increasing number of brand marketers are learning to flip this situation to their benefit by forging stronger relationships with customers, after all, there is no getting away from the fact that we live in a data economy, one where Millennials appear more comfortable with sharing their data than their Baby Boomer parents.

Those marketers who genuinely want to meet their customers’ expectations are shifting their approach to personalisation and building new engagement models, based on transparency and trust. In this new context, compliance has to be viewed as an opportunity to align the core business priorities to the principles of data ethics embedded in GDPR. Many are still some distance from reaching this level of maturity, which calls for a well strategised data-driven transformation journey.

However, we are also seeing the likes of Apple building a new business model based on privacy and consent – in seeming contrast with Facebook and Google.  Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, recently called for new digital privacy laws in the United States (not unlike GDPR), warning that the vast scale of personal data processing is harming society. Meanwhile, Facebook has re-branded to appear more private, but the data collection continues unabated.

Astute brand marketers need to figure out where they stand and rebuild their value propositions based on core values of trust and consent as well as a more nuanced understanding of the customer.

This may require adjusting to a ‘slower-burn’ approach to personalisation, however it will give marketers the perfect opportunity to refine their strategies of how to communicate the benefits of the value exchange while minimising risk.   

Ultimately harnessing personal data should improve the customer experience but it must reward them with a share in its value. In so doing marketers achieve what could be described as a ‘virtuous circle’ where increased consumer trust meshes with more personalised communications.

Getting personalisation right will lead to performance improvements in marketing, but the risk of getting it wrong has increased, too. Building experiences around the needs of customers, not the needs of marketers, is vital to delivering personalised experiences that benefit consumers.

Taking an iterative learning approach to building these experiences will help build consumer confidence in how their data is collected and used. There needs to be an end-to-end view of the customer journey across channels; how data is used to tailor and personalise these journeys will, of course, be key.

It will be interesting to see if big tech resets its relationship with users and whether Google, Amazon and Facebook adapt their approaches to privacy while we wait with interest to see if privacy is Apple’s new value-adding strategy.

Only time will tell, but one thing is sure – the writing is on the wall for data-by-stealth.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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