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By Aqilliz
Published on August 11, 2020
Over the years, marketers have been forced to navigate an increasingly digitised reality as consumers continue to prefer online alternatives to previously offline services. From the means by which we shop to how we choose to entertain ourselves, digital platforms now play a pivotal role in every aspect of our daily lives, shaping the most significant as well as the most banal of activities. This change in behaviour, of course, is not without its costs.
What we receive in speed, convenience, and accessibility, we offer information in return. In light of that, these digital experiences have broadly redefined what personalisation now means in the eyes of today’s customers. In fact, SmarterHQ’s Privacy and Personalization report found that 90 percent of surveyed consumers are willing to share behavioural data if additional benefits are offered to make the shopping experience cheaper and more convenient.
Enabling a more targeted form of marketing, today’s brand of personalisation is no longer a mere matter of a barista remembering your name and your order each day. Rather, present-day personalisation now takes on an anticipatory form, determining what customers might want or need before they’re even aware of it.
True enough, we, as a society, are now generating greater swathes of data. From the inadvertent digital breadcrumbs we leave behind as we mindlessly browse online to intentionally provided personal details, brands and marketers are now, more than ever, able to gain valuable insights about current and prospective customers alike with greater ease. And yet, this exchange in value can come at a great cost that marketers cannot bear to underestimate.
What is this cost? Well, let’s have a look at data safety.
The challenges of brand safety
Before we go into data safety, we need to rewind and take a closer look at brand safety which concerns the preservation of a brand’s image and reputation. Amid the growing threats of disinformation, fake news, and ad fraud across digital platforms, brands need to consistently be on guard, ensuring that the publishers they choose to work with aren’t exposing them to unsavoury associations.
Discussions surrounding brand safety have been heightened in recent months amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with brands cautious to avoid any online environments that would place their ads on any content relating to COVID-19. The result? A mass keyword blocking spree across the industry. According to Integral Ad Science, there was a tenfold increase in blocking “coronavirus” in the first two months of the year and by February, it became the most blocked keyword across the region.
Amid rampant media consumption pertaining to COVID-19, brands have had to adjust, considering a more nuanced approach to selecting publishers or risk significantly diminishing the scale of their campaigns.
So, where does data safety fit into this?
You can think of brand safety as a context-specific issue, specifically concerning where a brand’s ads are positioned and the implications of being associated with a given environment. On the other hand, data safety is not context-specific and directly pertains to practices employed by publishers and brands alike as they engage with customer data. To get started, let’s break down key areas that can significantly impact brand credibility and consumer trust:
How is data being obtained?
With the rise of stringent data protection frameworks such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which have ushered in this new age of consent, marketers and online infrastructure providers needed to adapt. Initially prompted by both Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers, Google’s Chrome has now followed suit, ushering in what the industry has dubbed the death of third-party cookies.
According to a 2019 Sprout Social study, 70 percent of consumers believe that it’s important for brands to take a public stance on social and political issues. Why? Because consumers genuinely believe that in a position of such power, privilege, and visibility, brands can do a great deal in generating greater awareness around key issues when speaking out about it, especially on social media. That being said, this can prompt greater scrutiny from consumers who want to ensure that stances aren’t being taken for the sake of performative support either—today’s consumers want authenticity.
Publishers are already taking note, with The New York Times, Vox Media, and The Washington Post all flocking to offer advertisers lucrative access to their databases of first-party data points. No longer limited to the tech giants that have long stood firm as behemoth walled gardens across the industry, a far more diverse ecosystem of first-party data consortiums can lead to a more equitable ecosystem. As we look to the future, it’s clear that with the amount of regulatory scrutiny cast across the marketing landscape, we’ll need to evolve and this time, it’s clear that the first-party data game is here to stay.
How much data is being taken in?
In spite of the lure of optimising efforts at personalisation, a line needs to be drawn: we need to move away from a culture of data maximalism. Today, ongoing conversations and geopolitical tensions are now drawn on the faultlines of data collection practices, with popular social platforms coming under fire for “harvesting” user data to the point that it could pose a potential national security risk.
With today’s data protection frameworks now stipulating greater restrictions and storage requirements on the collection of sensitive data points, marketers would do well to assess what’s actually needed and what’s simply nice to have in a bid to shift towards a culture of data minimalism. To enable this, marketers can look to technologies and infrastructural enhancements that offer unprecedented levels of control and security on behalf of users. Differential privacy, for one, ensures that general insights can be gleaned from a data set without compromising the privacy of specific individuals.
Handling too much data can lead to further problems down the road, when it comes to storage constraints, management responsibilities, and security requirements. With the goal of operating with minimum viable data, brands and organisations are well-poised to avoid unnecessary risks that could gravely compromise consumer trust.
How is data being used?
While SmarterHQ’s report found that 72 percent of surveyed consumers exclusively engaged in personalised content, there is a fine line between knowing what your customers want and knowing a little too much. Speculative pieces online, born out of consumers’ concerns that their phones are listening to them, are a testament to this fact. In fact, according to a New York Times report, over a 1,000 games, social apps, and messaging services utilised a software that uses your smartphone microphone to listen to audio signals in TV ads, track geolocation and viewing habits which were then sold to advertisers.
With legal jargon buried in lengthy terms and conditions and privacy policies, it’s clear that while measures are certainly in place for users and consumers to provide consent for such activities, the way in which consent is requested needs an overhaul. To further minimise data trails, restrictive data protection frameworks have sought to exert greater controls on how consumer data can be easily shared among organisations. CCPA 2.0 as it’s been called, or California’s new Privacy Rights Act (CPRA) offers even greater rights for consumers, enabling them to demand that their personal information to not be sold as well as shared—sharing is defined as the process of providing personal information to third-parties for cross-context behavioural advertising.
Where do you draw the line where personalisation crosses over from convenient to creepy? For one, be transparent—consumers are aware that nothing in life comes without a cost. With that in mind, marketers would benefit from providing consumers with a full view of the data they intend to collect and how it will be used in a bid to ensure that the brand-consumer relationship is ultimately underscored by equitability and trust.
Data-driven, not data-burdened
Brand safety is so much more than the environments surrounding advertisements and where they happen to be placed. Within an increasingly data-driven media environment, marketers will need to consistently re-evaluate their data practices to ensure that their customers are truly kept front and centre and this must go beyond the realms of personalisation.
Today, the threats to brand safety go beyond external risks, extending to internal processes and practices that could severely come at a detriment to long-standing accumulated trust. Marketers need to remember that every brand-consumer relationship is grounded in the exchange of value. To do well, marketers must accept that you don’t need to know everything—for every data point taken in, even greater value needs to be extended in return.