Even though I just spent 10 days out of the office for the Christmas break with my family, privacy was inescapable. It was the topic at Christmas dinner: What DOES Facebook actually know about you, gram? (Hint: Not much. You're not on Facebook...) It was the topic in social media discussions: No, Amazon's terms of service do not include allowing delivery drones to film you without consent. It was the topic on New Year's Eve at the local block party: Is it really possible the assistant principal at our local school had never heard the term "trolling"?
Perhaps this last conversation is just top-of-mind, but in case you were looking for a working definition, I hold up for you this recent piece from Ad Age as lesson one in how to troll privacy professionals. It seems designed to provoke a reaction from those in the privacy community, particularly advocates, but the real fear is that this outlook may not be an outlier.
Essentially, our author, David Brown, executive VP at Meredith Xcelerated Marketing (MXM), based in New York, is discounting privacy at its core. And this is Ad Age, so he's preaching to an audience that should be paying a lot of attention to privacy.
Maybe it's an argument we've heard before, but perhaps never in terms quite this stark:
"Consumers Should Resolve To Stop Whining About Privacy: Good Marketers Have Always Known Where You Live"
Truly, I thought "give your customers what they want" was a pretty basic tenet. However, rather than listen to the chorus of concern that consumers are singing, he's telling them they're singing the wrong song altogether.
But headlines are so inflammatory these days. Perhaps David didn't really mean that sort of thing? No, he's quite serious:
This New Year's, consumers should resolve to stop whining about privacy. They can't have it both ways. They can't whine about being hammered with irrelevant ads and then suggest they're worried about their privacy. The kind of custom content and tailoring that consumers seem to love—Amazon's related items you might like, Spotify's suggested music playlist and Netflix's recommended queue—simply don't happen without access to a consumer's preferences, age and local demographics. And, let's be real. Direct marketers have been tracking you for years.
This guy needs a privacy pro. If this is his best argument for data-mining, it doesn't seem like a very good one. Marketers, you need to talk to privacy professionals about better ways to illustrate the data-for-service transaction.
Just look at the examples here. Literally none of them requires access to a consumer's age or local demographics, as he suggests. Amazon's related items? They're generated by what other people bought who bought that item. Why do you need age and location? I bought a cookbook. You know what's related? A bowl. Maybe a whisk. Maybe a different but similar cookbook. It's not rocket science (well, actually, it's probably a lot better than the rocket science that put us on the moon, but we've come a long way, baby). Spotify's playlist? Perhaps they could come up with a fancy algorithm that identifies the other songs most frequently appearing in handmade playlists that include that song? And Netflix? It really doesn't seem that hard figure out that if our household watched "Thomas the Tank Engine" that we'd also maybe be interested in some lovely "Strawberry Shortcake" episodes.
Why do you need age and local demographics data for any of that? I think it's fair for consumers to wonder.
But this is the core of David's argument:
Remember when as a kid you joined Baskin Robbins' birthday club and they sent you a coupon for a free ice cream on your birthday? How about the time you moved to your new home and suddenly your mailbox was jammed with discounted offers from insurance companies and furniture retailers? Was that so bad?
To pretend like things aren't different now just seems, well, strange.
Marketers, I'm here to tell you: People do not think age and the location of their house is the same thing as a vast digital profile that includes the last 1,000 things they've purchased and the locations of everywhere they've traveled in the last 10 years and which things they've looked at online, but didn't buy, and on and on.
Sure, Sears has always targeted rural customers with their catalogs. But did they watch what pages people flipped through? Did they know which pages got dog-eared? Did they monitor and collate little Johnny's conversations with his friends about how much he wants a Red Ryder BB gun?
Somewhere between what marketers have always done and what we're capable of now there's a creepiness line. Privacy professionals are trained to help you find it, marketers. Talk to them.
They might point out that just because there are tools on the Internet that make it easier for you to do your job, that does not justify their use. Just as the ability to easily make copies of movies and music doesn't make their theft fine and dandy, the ability to gather vast amounts of data through opaque methods as consumers navigate the web doesn't make them "whiners" when they say, "Hey, there, hold up a second and maybe give me the option to consent to that data grab."
Marketers who have the sense to listen to customers when they "whine" and offer them fair exchanges that are transparent and easy to understand will be more successful, I'm highly confident. Some 64 percent of people think the government should do more to regulate advertisers. And, maybe you've noticed, Americans aren't particularly fond of their government right now.
Really, this finishing paragraph gets at where privacy professionals can be integral to successful marketing:
Consumers need to take a leap of faith and understand that sharing a certain amount of personal information with marketers they trust will be beneficial to both in the long run. And marketers should resolve to live up to their part of the bargain as well—by respecting and protecting a consumer's information as if it were their own.
No, they shouldn't need to take a leap of faith when doing business with companies. Am I normally taking a leap of faith when I buy something? Nope. I'm being offered a grilled cheese sandwich in exchange for $2, and I have a pretty good idea that I'm going to get a grilled cheese sandwich when I hand over my two bucks. No leap necessary. You know what leap of faith means? Allowing that something exists even in the face of no evidence whatsoever. That's what you want a data exchange to look like? You want consumers to give you personal data even though there's no actual evidence you'll use it correctly?
That's not a good plan.
Marketers, I'd offer that it's you who need to make a leap of faith. Even if you don't believe there's evidence that consumers REALLY care about privacy ("Just look at Facebook's success! People love Amazon and hate irrelevant ads!") in one-to-one interactions, it seems clear that there's a groundswell of unease about how privacy is being, and will be, affected by technological innovations that seem to pop up daily.
Grab a privacy pro, get up to speed and take a leap into a world of engaging consumers openly about their privacy concerns. I have faith that tactic will be more successful than telling them to stop whining.
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