Privacy and Personalisation in Digital Marketing: Anti-Complimentary?

Privacy and Personalisation in Digital Marketing_ Anti-Complimentary_


In as much as customers want personalised experiences from brands, they’re doubly as concerned about their online privacy. 

Print media and network television have been around for hundreds of years – and for as long as we can remember, they have been our main source of information.

That was until the internet happened, and changed everything.

While traditional marketing is yet to fully fade into the background, digital marketing is slowly taking over. 

Consequently, it has increased competition, forcing marketers to come up with new ways to personalise their content to appeal to individual consumers and gain a competitive advantage. 

While this is a good thing, especially for the enriched customer experiences, it does come at a cost. Companies now know a little bit too much of our private affairs. They know where you live, the books you read, the toothpaste you use, how old you are, and so on.

It’s a familiarity we’ve grown to expect, especially since it makes the digital world seem like it’s specifically customised for us. It can map the shortest route to our homes or suggest an ideal read for you. It’s a machine that’s been built to anticipate what we want. 

But as it stands, most of us have little to no idea of how our personal data is being collected and used. Nor do we even know how it’s being used. Even marketers, whose business is to know, don’t really know. 

You’ve probably heard of Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics and consultancy firm that harvested the personal information of 87 million Facebook users, and then proceeded to sell them to private clients, politicians included. 

A Time’s consumer-technology writer would go on to download the information that Facebook had on him, and would be astonished to find out how much of his personal information was out there, idly floating around. Worse, this information had been sold to a list of companies. 

The Growing Importance of Data Privacy

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Call it a data con job. Companies lulled us into believing they were here to make life simpler for us. They had created a platform to help us stay connected with our friends, find our way around town, or locate that perfect piece of electronic. 

While we were busy extolling the qualities of every new digital tool, suggesting the latest apps to our peers, these companies were secretly building a multi-billion-dollar war-chest of our private data with plans to use it against us.

Little did we know, we were the product. 

Now you should understand why customers aren’t so trusting in the manner that companies are handling their private information. It also explains why the issue of data privacy is a growing concern for consumers.

5 Reasons the Issue of Data Privacy Should Be Every Company’s Concern?

With that said, let’s look at some of the reasons the issue of data privacy should concern every business out there:

Prevent Data Breaches

Data breaches aren’t going anywhere. With news of data breaches popping nearly every day, companies have to install strong security measures and safeguards in place. The main reason for doing this is to protect their customers’ private data from leaking out or getting into the wrong hands. 

Complying with Regulations

You’re not just being irresponsible by not ensuring privacy protection, you’re breaking a series of laws.  

There are laws governing the whole privacy issue, the same way there are requirements to be observed. Failure to comply with these laws or meet the requirements may subject you to a fine of up to 10 million dollars or up to 20 years of jail term. 

Established Code of Ethics

There’s an established code of ethics that your business has to abide by if they’re to succeed. 

One of these codes of ethics demands that you handle all the confidential information you collect from customers responsibly. It’s on you to make sure they don’t get into the wrong hands and that they should only be used for business, and not in a way that harms customers. 

Maintaining Customer Loyalty

Loyalty is strongly tied to trust. Your customers must feel like you have their best interest at heart for them to remain loyal to your brand. 

Part of that is ensuring the private information they have trusted you with remains private. Once they suspect that their personal data is under attack or has been leaked to someone else, then they’ll never hesitate to drop your business and move their loyalty elsewhere. 

Other Companies are Doing It

Other companies, including some of the most established brands you know, are constantly refining their privacy policies. 

They understand what privacy means to some of their customers; and are, as such, dedicated to appealing to this group of customers. 

That’s how much you’re missing by noting taking customers’ privacy seriously. 

7 Internet Privacy Laws Every Marketer Needs to Know

Private data breaches are a real menace, and they’re bound to get even worse as time goes. While there aren’t any laws regulating online privacy, a patchwork of state and federal laws do apply.

Here are a few of these federal laws:  

The Federal Trade Act of 1914 (The FTC): The law was enacted to regulate unfair or deceptive commercial practises. It’s the primary federal regulator of all things privacy and can even bring enforcement actions against companies that fail to comply. 

That includes not complying with your privacy policies and not adequately protecting your consumers’ personal information.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA): Protects oral, wire, and electronic communications from unauthorised access, interception, use, and disclosure. 

Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA): Outlaws certain computer-related activities, like the use of computers to obtain certain information from people or the use of computers to defraud, transmit harmful items, or fraudulently obtain anything of value. The law has been amended more than six times since it was passed.

Children Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA): This law requires certain sites to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, disclosing, or using personal information from children under the legal age of 13. It also requires these websites to post their privacy policies online, to only collect necessary personal information, and, most importantly, make sure they have installed and maintained all the necessary security measures. 

Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003 (CAN-SPAM ACT): This law protects the user from being sent unsolicited commercial emails. It also protects them from deceptive subject lines and misleading header information. 

The sender has to disclose the information they collect. It also requires you to include a valid opt-out notice. 

Gramm Leach Bliley Act of 1999 (GLBA): this law regulates how financial institutions collect, use, and discloses the personal information they collect. It requires financial institutions to provide written documents on their security program. 

6 Ways to Improve Consumer Data Privacy

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What steps can you take to improve data privacy?

#1 Limit the Amount of Information You Collect: Stick with what’s necessary and leave the rest of the information out. While collecting more information might be interpreted to mean developing a better understanding of your target audience, it poses a greater security risk. 

To avert this problem, only collect the information you need. For example, don’t collect your social security numbers from your customers when you’re certain you’re not going to use them. 

#2 Do whatever You Can to Keep Your Consumers’ Data Secure: Consumers trust you to keep their personal information safe. You’re not to disappoint them. If there’s anything you can do to keep this information safe, we suggest you go for it. For certain types of businesses, that may mean working with a reliable third-party online security firm. For others, it may translate to implementing better encryption. 

But generally, you need to educate your employees on the issues of data security. Make them understand what’s at stake, their vulnerability points, and how to safeguard their online operations against attacks.  

#3 Offer Your Consumers Multiple Privacy Options: If possible, have multiple privacy options to offer to consumers. You can allow them to keep their profile private or to provide far less information, anything that makes them feel safer. 

That’s an excellent way to demonstrate that you do care about your customers’ privacy and security concerns.

#4 Writer Several Versions of Your Privacy Policies: Don’t just write one privacy policy and be done with it. Instead, write several versions of it, starting with the main one to act as the primary legalese. 

In addition to that, you’re to rewrite the privacy policy in layman’s terms, broken into simplified, easy-to-understand chunks that your audience can understand. While at it you want to reassure them that you’re handling their data responsibly. 

#5 Learn to Differentiate Different Types of Data: Not all data is the same.

Certain types of data are more sensitive and therefore require more beefed-up security system than others. 

You need to analyse the data you collect and classify them based on their level of sensitivity. 

That should help you figure out how to best protect each type of data from being breached. 

#6 Have a Bring Your Own Device Data Management Framework: You have to manage how your data is handled, and all the devices that your staff uses to access it. This is particularly important for an organisation that allows its employees to bring their own computer devices to work. 

For this, you want to come up with a policy that prohibits them from using the devices in a certain way. You’re to also come up with data privacy regulations that the employees are required to comply with. 

Privacy Challenges and Concerns that Marketers Have to Deal with

The issue of data privacy is shaping up the digital landscape from three different angles.

Privacy Regulations: The rising concerns over consumer privacy protection have forced the government to enact stricter privacy regulations. 

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires every marketer out there to proactively ask their site’s visitor for consent before tracking them or collecting any of their identity information, including their IP address. 

Also included in the GPDR are clear guidelines on how you’re supposed to communicate with your site’s visitors or users once their privacy has been breached.  

In other words, the GPDR requires companies to install adequate data protection measures. And should a customer requests for their personal data to be deleted, you’re to do it without hesitation. 

Failure to comply with these requirements can get you sentenced to a fine of $20 million or 4% of your annual revenue (whichever is higher). 

Despite getting so much media coverage, so many companies were still caught off guard. As it turns out, only 13% of firms were fully compliant with the GDPR by the time it was going into effect. 

Data Breaches: Data breaches are a real threat. A notable number of data breaches were reported in 2020. 

There were 2, 935 public reported cases of data breaches in the first three quarters of 2020, increasing the number of exposed records to the tune of 36 billion.

Hackers are proving to be relentless, and it’s only bound to get worse with time. 

Consumers Fear: With giant brands falling victim to data breaches, consumers have all the reasons in the world to be scared.  

Kelton Global, an internationally known insight firm, decided to conduct some thorough research on the latest consumer attitudes and expectations with regards to how they want brands to handle their personal data, in light of the Facebook-Cambridge scandal.

Here’s what the study had to reveal:

  • Consumers don’t trust companies: 73% of consumers don’t trust companies. They have reason to believe companies are using their personal information to profit themselves, without their knowledge of course.  
  • They Are Concerned About their Personal Identifiable Information (PII): 83% of consumers actually care about their personally identifiable information. They’re concerned about the companies that collect this information.
  • They think they’re being surveilled: Only 17% of customers are okay with the idea of brands using web tracking bots, and only 8% have no issue with brands using social media tracking.

That’s to say, more than 80% of the population don’t like being tracked. 

It’s safe to say consumers have never been this guarded. They’re distrustful of the corporate world and any attempt to get them to disclose their personal information.  

 So, What’s the Future of Personalisation?

Now that customers don’t want to tracked and are a little bit skeptical about how brands are using their personal information, how nebulous is the future of personalisation?

Every marketer understands the role of personalisation in marketing and its importance in driving results.

78% of users say the personalised messages they receive brands significantly increase their buying intent. 

In the same dimension, 88% of marketers report seeing significant improvements in sales after personalising their content.  

And according to a different study, personalisation has been found to drive 5 to 8 times ROI on marketing spends. 

It’s, therefore, safe to say that buyers love being treated uniquely. They love the special attention they get from brands. But, at the same time, they don’t like it when marketers study them covertly or share insights without their knowledge. 

Companies, on the other hand, don’t like storing third-party data. Worse, the newly enacted laws make it even harder for them to collect this data. 

So, does that mean personalisation has hit a cul-de-sac?

Not quite.

Companies are reinventing themselves by embracing transparency. They ceased operating in the dark, and have instead given buyers more control over the type of information they choose to share with them online. 


About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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