Smita Salagonkar and Shashwith Uthappa
When retail faced physical shutdowns, more consumers flocked to digital for shopping. While ecommerce long offered time and cost savings to consumers, it now had the benefit of providing them with a safer environment to purchase during a pandemic. Southeast Asia alone saw 20 million new digital customers.
For brands, a benefit of the move to digital was that wide swaths of consumers were now sharing their purchase intent—valuable data used to surface up precise results. Consumers expect relevance in the products and content that’s recommended to them, and this expectation will only grow; imagine having to search for what you’re looking for in the 8th page of Google Search results!
On the flip side, companies face increased ethical scrutiny in how they use customer data. Business strategies designed to covertly collect personal data and monetize it are myopic; they may have implications on the customer relationships in the long-term. It’s important that companies instead look at responsible, privacy-focused strategies to earn consumer trust, even more so as we move to a post-cookie future.
Privacy is the fulcrum to the future of marketing.
With many consumers increasingly becoming aware and wary of the use of their data, and with regulatory bodies coming forward with laws and legislations, now is the time for brands to give their audiences a seat at the negotiation table when it comes to their privacy. At the recent Google Marketing Live event for the Leadership Circle in Hyderabad, India, privacy was the key theme, including how it is the fulcrum to building the future of marketing. Some key interesting stats that were shared:
- 48% of people globally have stopped buying or using a service from a company due to privacy concerns.
- Four out of the top five countries that searched for online privacy (in English) were from APAC.
- Three out of five companies globally report benefits of deeper loyalty and improved agility and efficiency with being privacy mature.
Essentially, modern brands use data to serve customers and provide a meaningful value exchange—more relevant, personalized experiences that enhance the brand-consumer relationship—rather than treat audiences as another product to auction off and sell. So while examples of data privacy misconduct often make the news, it’s instructive to acknowledge and learn from those who are handling data with utmost care. Walmart embraces privacy in the design of its organizational processes and structures, products and services by constantly monitoring the technological landscape for potential threats, for example. This way they are self-reliant on the collection and protection of data and hence subject to lesser data vulnerability. Likewise, brands can focus on privacy not as an inhibitor, but rather the key to unlocking better customer experiences through more ethical and sustainable use of data.
Focus on consent and value.
Given the fact that data security and management require a significant investment of resources by digitally mature companies, it’s important to use those tools to serve customers better, because that’s where the return on investment lies.
Two ways that brands create value is by offering transparency about data collection and control in how it is used. Ultimately it is about delivering value to end users. Consented first-party data and insights from privacy-safe technologies like Topics API provide incremental value to marketers while keeping online content and services free. Data-driven marketing focused on transparency and control can transform marketing strategies, enhance customer relationships, and yield useful content to people or even inform the product design.
A greater focus on first-party data is important because over reliance on third-party cookies, a tactic brands have taken for granted, is increasingly unwelcome by consumers and increasingly unsustainable given future plans to phase them out. Expanding beyond third-party cookies is key to building a long-term marketing strategy of the future.
Our work for Ace Hardware illustrates this philosophy. Through revamping its rewards program, Ace Hardware was able to improve the customer experience and deliver on its reputation of being “The Helpful Place” for those wanting to improve their homes. The app rewards customers for their loyalty while enriching Ace’s trove of first-party data. By unlocking insights into customer interest and intent—without the use of third-party cookies or targeted ads—the brand was able to deliver a meaningful value exchange in return for data.
Zero in on the data you need.
Another benefit of shielding consumer privacy is preventing data bloat by collecting only the data necessary to drive value for your marketing—not gobbling all your customers’ data. This enhances data hygiene, yields cleaner analytics and helps minimize risks posed by data breaches.
Software giant SAP estimates that nearly 73% of data collected by companies is never used. When data minimization efforts are put into practice, there are limited opportunities for collecting information, thereby condensing the depth of detail and timeframe in which data is possessed. This forms the nucleus of GDPR regulations, helps weed out the excess data and focus on obtaining only relevant information with focused questions and being intentional in data collection efforts.
Activate insights through continual testing.
When companies build a customer-learning and serving culture, they determine the purpose of data before asking for consent and a clear explanation is provided to customers on what they stand to gain in parting with their data.
With a focus on learning about and serving customers, brands are able to build a “test and learn” culture to inspire increasingly valuable experiences reinforced by data. Amex has been able to do this successfully with initiatives such as the small business lending program, which they piloted after having a deeper understanding of their customer data signals. Incidentally the brand also ranks high in customer privacy in the Fortune 500 companies list. Likewise, brands who are agile in responding to imminent privacy changes are breaking down the privacy era.
The right approach to data privacy can create a ripple effect of positive outcomes: deterring churn to competitors, strengthening perception, overcoming privacy obstacles and ultimately earning consumer trust. With these benefits in mind, keeping privacy the focus of your data strategy can do more than keep a brand agile amidst new regulations—it’s also a key component to future-proof growth.
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