Can digital marketing still work in a privacy-first world?

By David Card

How do you do digital marketing in a privacy-first world? And how do you do it if you’re in an industry or space where privacy is more than a customer preference?

The era of digital marketing came with promise. As everything was moving into the online world, massive amounts of data were created, allowing brands and marketers the ability to more easily target the people they wanted to. This was supposed to lead to both greater personalization for the consumer, and a greater efficiency on marketing spend. In many ways, it did. From the brand perspective, the more you know about your customer, the better.

But this didn’t take into account the consumers’ view. As more and more people learned about the types of information companies have been able to gather about them online—and how—resistance grew. Legislation like GDPR and CCPA have played a role in curtailing the worst data gathering and sharing abuses, and Apple has instituted a uber of measures intended to keep users’ data secure (Like that pop-up you get now asking if you’re willing to allow an app to track you, and their new “Hide My Email” feature). 

Still, consumers still expect more. Over 8 in 10 consumers feel that companies should be doing more to protect their personal data, and nearly three-quarters said that they would be more likely to do business with a company that could prove it takes data privacy and security seriously.

So take it seriously. 

That lays bare the question: How do you do digital marketing in a privacy-first world? And how do you do it if you’re in an industry or space where privacy is more than a customer preference? The keys lie in being honest and upfront with consumers about what you need their data for, and why. 

And ultimately, it boils down to creating impactful and resonant (read: good) content and experiences for your customers. 

Transparency and honesty build trust

A 2020 survey by IBM found that 75% of consumers said that they would not purchase a product or service from a company that they do not trust to protect their data, while 60% said that they are willing to pay more for a product or service if they know that their data is being protected.

It’s simply good business to show people that you care about their privacy and security, and that you won’t hang them out to dry. You don’t want people to not even consider your products because you have a rep for being loose with customer data.

Be honest with your customers—it pays to have an area on your website that you can point to that lays out how you collect and store data, and that you’re committed to their security (and, also, that you’re in compliance with any legislation that is appropriate). Even if the content here is very dry, it’s necessary, and nobody will hold it against you. Data security and online privacy are where you over-promise and be crystal clear about your intentions with customer data. 

Utilize First- and Zero-party Data

You don’t need to be a data-whiz to be an effective digital marketer, but some baseline knowledge helps. Given many of the new restrictions set forth by legislation and by the cookie-less future we’re confronting, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the types of data that are available to you.

First-party data is data that a company collects directly from a user, via the company’s website or other platforms, like web behavior data or purchase history. First-party data is considered among the most reliable and accurate because, well, you get it directly. 

Zero-party data may be a bit harder to get, but can be incredibly valuable when you do. Zero-party data is data that a customer or user willingly offers to a company. Companies can acquire zero-party data through surveys, loyalty programs, games, and other experience-based initiatives. 

One key thing about acquiring zero-party data is to be fully transparent about what you’re going to use the data for and why. It’s on you to create a clear and honest value exchange, proving to users that giving you their info was worth it. 

Both first- and zero-party data can be effectively used to create more personalized marketing—content and experiences that are relevant to the user. The more you know about a user, the better you can tailor your marketing towards them to make it as relevant as possible. This data, when utilized effectively and carefully, goes a long way toward building better relationships with your customers.

Put things in the customers’ hands—and make it easy

If you ask a customer for any bit of data about them, it’s only fair that you offer them control over that data collection and the ability to adjust it or stop it. Be clear with your customers about how they can control and manage which data they share, like giving them the ability to opt out of data collection and easily adjust their privacy settings. 

No company wants to lose the data of a customer—in an online world, this can feel like effectively losing the customer altogether. But offering control goes a long way towards building that key level of trust and accountability that people seek. It helps build your brand image as one that cares about the people it transacts with. 

It’s the Content, Stupid

We’ve talked a lot about data, but marketing isn’t about collecting and utilizing data. It’s about what you do with that data. Ultimately, all the data you collect about your customers is supposed to be in service of creating content and experiences that will resonate with your customers, building brand equity with them, and—of course—hopefully resulting in sales and business growth. 

In many ways, the “personalization at scale” era was a dud. Sure, the sheer technological capability brought about by the internet, where companies could track users and serve them ads based on their behavior or their location, was revolutionary. 

But for many people, it felt like spam—advertisements for boots or sunglasses (or God forbid, underwear)  following us around the internet, wherever we went. Worse off, half the time, it felt like these ads would pop up after we had already bought said item. Effective marketing it always wasn’t. 

Now, if you want someone to buy your brand’s boots or sunglasses, you’ve gotta do more than creepily follow them around the internet and social media. You’ve gotta tell them a story. You’ve gotta make your brand seem like the one that’s perfect for them. Simply put, you’ve gotta advertise

Conclusion—Digital Marketing CAN Still Work

The good thing is that the digital world has no shortage of platforms or tools available to find your customers and market to them. And increasingly, with the advent of generative AI and other fast-emerging technologies, there are more ways than ever to brainstorm, ideate, and ultimately create resonant content and experiences. 

To ensure that a series of social posts result in sales? That the YouTube short or animation makes people want to share? That your email marketing has a high click-through? 

There’s no magic bullet, but as always, marketing success is based on how your communications present your brand, how they tell its story, and how they connect that story to the value the brand can create in the consumer’s life. 

Data will definitely help you understand more about your customer. You just have to be honest about how you get that data, what you’re going to do with it, and how sharing it with you is going to benefit the customer. 



What Does Chat GPT and AI Mean For Marketing? For Content? For Professionals?

Read More