Brands Face A Privacy Conundrum

Chris WrenMarch 22, 20183 min

In 1999, Sun Microsystems’ then-CEO Scott McNealy infamously declared, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Back then, online shopping was still emerging and consumers venturing into cyberspace for the first time didn’t know what to expect. But for a major technology CEO, whose brand was a member of the Online Privacy Alliance, to make a statement like that was shocking to say the least.

Fast-forward to today: The scandal over at Facebook regarding Cambridge Analytica is putting the kind of spotlight on data privacy that is waking people up. In some ways, marketers and brands should be thankful Facebook is taking the brunt of the outrage. People are largely ignorant of the privacy they trade for conveniences like having the ability to have apps use Facebook for their login credentials, or taking fun innocent quizzes and personality tests that usually provide a gateway to deeper profile access (with terms and conditions buried deeply or in too complex a language for most people to understand).

Bob Hoffman (aka The Ad Contrarian) says, “Lucky for [advertisers and marketers], the media and the public still don’t get it. They don’t understand at who’s behest all the unconscionable collection, trading, and selling of personal, private information is being done. They haven’t put two-and-two together yet and realized who is really at fault for the Cambridge Analytica and Russian election tampering scandals.”

Brands must understand the role digital advertising has played in creating many of the problems driving perceptions today. And while Mark Zuckerberg has offered a (mild) apology, Brandon Doyle, CEO and founder of Walarroo Media says, “Brands will be much more hesitant to put focus on Facebook marketing. Facebook has betrayed the public’s trust too many times, and this most recent event will be the last straw for some. I foresee more focus being shifted to Instagram — even though it’s a Facebook property — [as well as] Snapchat and Pinterest.”

This brings us to three important questions brands need to ask themselves right now:

1. Is data being used to make the customer’s life easier? Instead of using data because ‘the brand wants customers to do ____’, brands need to be working towards improving the customer’s situation or interactions. So many brands have valuable data that exists in silos. The top brands will be looking for ways to bring disparate data together and transform it. When marketing data, purchase history and CRM data can come together, new opportunities for stronger, more relevant messages (and marketing) will likely surface.

2. Has the brand tried to draw insights from the data, or is it just skimming the surface? For example, if a customer searches for a pair of shoes on a Sunday evening at home, should they be retargeted for the next week regardless of if they are at work or at home? Or would it be better to make an attempt to understand the context of that search and retarget in similar contexts?

3. Is it simple for customers to opt-in and out of personal data sharing? With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, many brands are requiring existing customers and subscribers to re-opt-in to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Some brands are doing it for all subscribers, regardless of geography. If your brand has an app or uses apps that look deeper into a person’s social profile, be explicit about how the added information will help the customer. If additional information only helps the brand, best not to ask for it.

It’s only a matter of time before more governments will follow Europe’s lead. Brands can keep doing what’s been done for the past decade, or wake up to the reality that practices need to change quickly if as an industry we want to rebuild some of the trust that has been lost.

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