Consumer data is the lifeblood of modern marketing — but in a world powered by artificial intelligence, leveraging data effectively while avoiding costly slip ups has never been more challenging.
Today's marketers deal with consumers who know the value of their data, and expect to be treated with respect by the brands they permit to use it. They also have to navigate a fast changing regulatory landscape patrolled by muscular privacy enforcers.
Simultaneously, marketers have to adapt to an industry-wide pivot away from third-party data. The days of simply hoovering up crumbs of data left behind as consumers browse the web are long gone. In the post-cookie era, most marketing efforts — including and especially those enabled by AI — will be powered by high quality first-party data, collected directly from consumers, and zero-party data, actively volunteered by consumers.
With AI adoption happening at warp speed, and democratized access to AI driving up the risk of data leakage, marketers need to solve for all these issues quickly and effectively to build and sustain competitive advantage. To achieve this, they need a new tech stack capable of driving success across three key areas:
Permission management is king
When collecting zero-party and first-party data, the goal shouldn't just be to harvest as much data as possible from each customer interaction, but to obtain clear permission to use that data. Doing so is not only the key to regulatory compliance, but also to winning the trust of customers and ensuring they keep sharing their data over time.
To enable this, organizations need powerful consent management platforms capable of providing meaningful transparency, collecting clear consent anchored in the purposes for which data will be used, and reflecting permitted uses across the entire data ecosystem. The last point is crucial: consent signals need to follow data seamlessly as it flows through your organization, with robust governance to ensure it is never improperly used, including in AI models.
In an era of global privacy regulation, such consent management tools also need to adapt to the requirements of different jurisdictions, applying opt-in and opt-out requirements correctly based on customer location. The goal should always be to diligently defend consumers' data rights while also maximizing the value generated from properly permissioned data.
Clean rooms will drive collaboration
The slow death of third-party data complicates collaboration between organizations. To manage data responsibly, marketers will need new clean-room infrastructure where they can safely share first-party and zero-party data — for conventional analytics, but also for new applications such as machine learning — without compromising consumer privacy.
Imagine if Kroger and Kellogg's want to share data about who is buying breakfast cereal. They can't simply share the raw data, but using clean-room infrastructure they can use aggregated and privacy-safe data and insights to sculpt new AI tools — all without ever directly touching the data itself.
Such approaches allow marketers to increase the volume of data they can access or, more accurately, to maximize the volume of data-driven insights they can leverage. Instead of only using data collected in house, marketers can turn clean rooms into a force-multiplier. Instead of poor quality data from cookies and third-party sources, marketers will be able to safely access more targeted, higher quality data sources to drive value for their brands.
Data control has become more complex
From clean-room collaborations to AI-generated ad campaigns and from conventional customer data platforms to cloud data warehouses and composable CDPs, permissioned data will need to be operationalized across the entirety of an increasingly complex data ecosystem. Permission will need to be not just collected but reliably activated to ensure all marketing interactions are driven by responsibly managed data.
To enable that, we'll see new permissioning tools becoming widespread. Browser signals, managed via the Global Privacy Control system or browser extensions such as Consent-O-Matic, will empower consumers to use set-and-forget privacy capabilities. Privacy vaults and tools like IAB Tech Lab's Global Privacy Platform protocol will also become increasingly widely used.
For brands, this turns permissioning into a many-to-many problem: marketers will need to find ways to reconcile all the different ways in which people give or revoke consent, then map those signals back out to multiple consumer touchpoints including computers, mobile devices, smart TVs and in-store interactions. In the AI context, businesses need controls to prevent the leakage of sensitive data, and systems to extend privacy controls such as opt-outs and deletion requests to their AI models.
A more responsible tech stack
It isn't enough to have good intentions when rising to these interconnected challenges. Marketers need to commit to building out a tech stack that firmly anchors their use of first-party and zero-party data in the principles of data dignity and responsible data management.
A technological solution is vital because the data ecosystem itself is constantly evolving. Quandaries such as algorithmic bias or ethical AI are just the tip of the iceberg. In a world of breakneck innovation, we can't know precisely what new challenges tomorrow will bring, or count on the ability to engineer new solutions fast enough to cope.
Regulators implicitly acknowledge this fact by shifting focus to broadly applicable principles of fairness, rather than rigid rules that define how new technologies can or can't be used. In the AI era, in fact, regulatory compliance will no longer be enough. To satisfy both regulators and consumers, and secure lasting access to high-quality data, marketers need to aim higher and proactively build privacy infrastructure that both embodies and enforces the ideals of respect, transparency and consumer agency at every point along the value chain.
How can marketers achieve that? The truth is companies don't need to have all the answers today — they just need to commit to the journey.
If marketers make a good-faith effort to build responsible data infrastructure, and are upfront with consumers about the challenges they foresee and the solutions they are developing, they'll be recognized as advocates and allies. Consumers will more confidently entrust such brands with their data, and marketers will be able to leverage that data more effectively to drive enduring value for their brands.
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