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The Rise of Marketing Personalization – Can Privacy Co-Exist?

Explore the importance of personalized marketing, data privacy, and how companies can balance between gathering customer data and respecting privacy.

Spoiler: The answer is yes, but differently. 

With the rise of the online world, we’ve seen not only an increase in information transfer, but also a new dialogue between brands and consumers. What was once a matter of print or TV ads telling us what companies thought we wanted to hear, marketers now face the challenge of “marketing personalization.” Meaning brands and marketers are now trying to understand what we actually want.

For marketers, privacy regulations can feel like a blocker keeping them from information to communicate with their audience. But, on the other hand, technology can exploit consumer data, and not everyone is equipped to manage how that information is getting shared and with who. Personalized marketing can still be successful, but as a company and an agency, we must put the users first.

So how do companies like us, an ethical digital marketing agency that relies on understanding audiences, tracking behaviors, and building out customer profiles for our clients, work and protect those people’s privacy? 

Keep reading for an open conversation on targeted content, its importance, the future of marketing personalization and data privacy, and how can we, as companies, shift how we collect data.

Table of Contents 

What is Targeted Content? 

Targeted content uses consumers’ digital information to reach out to them with personalized content. Behind your screen, you (the internet user), may be unintentionally sharing a lot of information. When you shop, research, scroll through social media, etc., that information is collected by the websites you access, as well as the web browser you are using. Then, in turn, that information can be used for marketing. 

The information left behind includes everything… names, age, address, search history, location, and more. Also, if you happened to interact with customer service reps, you provided even more data and may not have even realized it.

The good thing is that some regulations limit what can be collected, but everything else can be used in targeted ads, emails, social media, and other forms of content. And, if that makes you feel uncomfortable, we totally understand.

As companies compile data about their customer, they can use that information to create custom content – AKA “marketing personalization.” Companies need to be very careful with personalization campaigns because they can come across as either friendly or creepy (I’m sure you’ve seen or heard an advertisement that was just a little too close or timely for comfort). Marketers need to understand their audience and what is acceptable for their audience. 

With that said, marketing personalization and targeted content work. People LOVE recognition and familiarity. Think of when you walk into your regular coffee shop, and the barista working knows your name and your order. It is such a warm and intimate feeling, and it’s in person. Targeted content is meant to replicate that feeling digitally. 

Woman happy to look at her phone.
Examples of digital targeted content are:
  • companies having your first name in the subject line of an email or texting you about upcoming sales;
  • video ads that show up before a YouTube video that pertain to something you recently searched for;
  • or, realizing that the blogs you’re reading have paid ads for that vacation home you’ve been looking at on AirBnB.

It is meant to create a deeper bond between the brand and the consumer. Sometimes it’s creepy. Other times you’re like, “Oh! That IS what I’ve been looking for!”

As consumers, we desire familiarity, and it can make us feel like we have a sense of control over the content we are consuming. Personalization is more than just including a name in an email subject line. 

Targeted content is: 

  • Taking the buyer’s unique characteristics into account. 
  • Creating content directly related to their habits, needs, and interests.
  • Relevant.
  • Used to make your buyers feel like they got what they were looking for.

Can Privacy and Targeted Content exist together?

The goal of targeted content is personalized content that creates a sense of familiarity where each individual feels seen without feeling like their privacy was invaded. It’s content made for a group that speaks to each individual. To do this, marketers need to use data AND real-time behavioral insights. So, can targeted content and privacy co-exist? Yes. 

Businesses love data-driven marketing, and traditionally they had access to a lot of information. Like Google and Facebook, platforms track your usage – they follow the media you’re looking at, what you are searching for, where you are shopping, and how long you spend online. Platforms have access to that information to understand and predict customer behavior to fit their needs. The more they know, the better they can satisfy those buyers’ needs. Then the data is sold so other businesses can access that knowledge. 

These data collection methods keep expanding, and customers are starting to notice. There’s so much data being generated; it is connecting the world in ways we never thought possible. Now guidelines are being developed to address people’s privacy and security concerns about how their data is shared.

The Double-Edged Sword of Targeted Content

While consumers want their privacy, they also want some personalization and familiarity from the business they choose to interact with. According to an article published by Adobe “the business value of personalisation is clear: 80 percent of consumers say they are “more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences.” So, brands need to continue to have some form of intimacy to create brand loyalty. 

As marketers shift in how we obtain information, our number one goal should be to earn our customer’s trust back. Customers need to know that their data isn’t being compromised and that their privacy is not violated. 

For privacy and targeted content to co-exist, marketers have to reevaluate their outlook on confidentiality. 

We need to be aware of: 

  • Where their data is coming from.
  • Where their information is going.
  • How it’s being used. 

If businesses, agencies, and marketers lead with the intent of earning their audience’s trust, only then can targeted content and privacy co-exist.

The future of Targeted Content and Privacy

We have established that privacy and targeted content can co-exist. However, companies need to find a way to get customer information while still respecting their customer’s privacy. So how? Historically, there were so many ways to gather information. However, those days are over – the abundance of personal data and having the ability to track every move of your target audience is over. 

Now, businesses are asking, “how are we supposed to continue learning from our customers without violating them and without having the information that was once so easily accessible?” It all starts with collecting data responsibly and being intentional and resourceful with how you interact with your audience. 

Secured Apple Phone.

Here are a few examples of how you can get to know your buyers without violating their privacy: 

Ask Them! 

One way to learn about your audience is to ask them. Create surveys and reach out. Ask a series of questions that are simple and relevant. They can be used to create an open dialogue and is an opportunity to create more personalized content and a stronger relationship between the business and the customer. With surveys, customers can reveal their preferences, and marketers can use those answers to create more engaging content.

Create More Focused and Quality Content 

Traditionally markets have been matching content to metrics. 

  • What is their audience looking at? 
  • What are they clicking? 
  • What are they searching for? 

As marketers, we need to switch our mindsets. We need to rely less on what our audience is searching for and how intensely we can track our customers and focus more on what will resonate with them. 

Increase communication 

As digital marketing evolves, brands will need to adapt to different possibilities. Rather than one ultra-targeted message, start creating multiple messages and communicate frequently. By consistently sharing with your audience, you increase brand recognition and trust. 

Focus on the metrics you do have access to 

Create multiple pages on your website that store all information related to specific topics or themes. The content-specific pages can also include relevant external resources like podcasts, whitepapers, and videos. 

Additionally, revisit your digital marketing strategy – focus on the campaign effectiveness and the metrics. You’ll need to shift your mindset on whether or not an individual campaign worked but rather focus on the greater aspects of your marketing campaign. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. It will help you improve your overall messaging at a higher level. 

We cannot deny that digital advertising is changing from what we have traditionally experienced; however, while the digital landscape changes, consumer behaviors do not. People are still buying things that fulfill their needs, and they’re still engaging with brands that they trust. 

It’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in marketing – rather than focus on the micro analytics, focus on engagement, and create relevant content. It’s time to look at what your audience resonates with and do more of that. 

Opt-In Marketing 

Businesses, agencies, and marketers need to work towards obtaining consent before using an individual’s data. One way they are doing that is by opt-in marketing. Opt-in marketing is a form of permission marketing where customers allow permission to companies to receive follow-up communication and offers. Opt-in marketing makes sure that the customer is fully aware that they will get additional information. 

With this new digital landscape – more choice is given to the consumers. Consumers have a right to their privacy. As marketers, we need to be able to provide opt-in and opt-out options to make consumers feel comfortable with the process of data collection. 

Companies’ access to consumer data and how it was used have disrupted the trust built between brand and consumer. Companies should start adopting these regulations and increase transparency between them and their customers. They should be able to clearly explain how certain pieces of information are used and work to regain that trust. 

There are so many things to consider when it comes to the future of digital marketing and privacy. Still, the most important thing as a brand and business is our customer, and when you operate from a customer-first mindset – only then can targeted content and privacy co-exist. 

We can continue to adjust to new privacy laws, but human nature remains the same – as companies, we need to work to find a happy balance between both. 

Consumers expect personalized and targeted marketing content; they also expect that their information will not be sold to third parties and they won’t have their privacy violated. So while we need to create personalized content, we need to find new ways to acquire and use the content. 

Marketing personalization is learning everything you can about a customer and finding a way to deliver that content in a way that they will be receptive to. So work on acquiring that information through a high-level approach, focusing on trends, what buyers tell you in your comments, asking questions, and asking for feedback. 

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