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Digital Transformation Brand Strategy Business Leadership

CMOs bullish on privacy preparedness, but some reckon they’re overconfident


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

May 9, 2023 | 8 min read

Exclusive insights from iResearch Services for The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Data & Privacy Playbook, find that global brand marketing leaders are generally confident in their ability to navigate cookie deprecation and generate revenue in the face of privacy disruption. Media experts, however, posit that they may be overselling themselves.

People with blue tech tracking boxes indicating surveillance

CMOs are too confident in their ability to navigate changes in the data privacy landscape, some experts say / Adobe Stock

Chief marketing officers around the world aren’t feeling too sick over cookies crumbling. But some media experts say the feeling indicates short-sightedness.

A new study by iResearch Services in conjunction with The Drum surveyed 300 global chief marketing officers. It found that most CMOs are conscious of growing pressure to prioritize consumer data privacy, with 78% saying they either strongly or slightly agreed that harnessing data ethically while protecting privacy is among the greatest challenges for brand owners today.

Despite this level of awareness, most CMOs expressed high levels of confidence in their organizations’ abilities to navigate signal loss and engage in effective ad targeting and measurement while preserving consumer choice and privacy.

For example, 58% of respondents said they feel either extremely or moderately prepared for third-party cookies deprecation.

56% felt the same about tech-based changes – such as Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework, which gives users the ability to choose which apps have permission to track them across other apps and areas of the web. European marketers in particular said they’re ready to deal with these kinds of changes; 63% of EMEA-based CMOs reported to be either extremely or moderately prepared for platform-related changes.

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The numbers were even higher when it came to regulatory disruption. 62% of surveyed CMOs said they feel they’re either extremely prepared or moderately prepared for upticks in privacy regulation. The sentiment was roughly equivalent across geographic regions.

Survey participants in general also felt bullish on the advertising industry’s ability to comply with privacy rules on its own. 64% were either extremely or moderately confident in the sector’s ability to self-regulate.

And they weren’t too worried about the overall impact of privacy changes. Though CMOs expressed some concern about their bottom lines – with 34% being extremely or moderately concerned about changes in the privacy landscape negatively impacting revenue – just 23% claimed to be either extremely or moderately concerned about a potentially negative effect on audience targeting.

Some industry experts feel that the results of the survey reveal overconfidence on the part of brand marketers. Shiv Gupta, managing partner at U of Digital, a digital marketing education firm, says: “CMOs should be way more concerned and feel way more unprepared for the future of addressability. How can you be so confident about a completely uncertain future? The endpoints of privacy legislation and of the major platforms – like Apple and Google – are up in the air. There may be no endpoints at all!”

Others we spoke to say that the numbers may point to variation across brand industries. “The issue of data privacy clearly varies by industry, based on the responses in this survey,” says Sean Turner, the co-founder and chief technology officer at retail tech firm Swiftly.

In the retail industry in particular, he points out, consumer privacy is “extremely important.” He claims that a large majority of consumers – some 96% – currently opt out of third-party cookie tracking. From this point of view, he estimates that “a percentage of the CMOs from the survey are underselling themselves and run the risk of being behind” when it comes to privacy preparedness.

Not everyone is so cynical – some industry leaders have a more optimistic outlook. “It is great to see increased confidence across the marketing community with respect to privacy changes in the market,” says Daniel Barber, chief executive and co-founder of privacy software company DataGrail. “Marketers are responding to consumers’ expectations.”

Still, he is careful to point out that preserving consumer privacy is often easier said than done. For one, not all tracking methods are disclosed to consumers – in fact, up to 50% of third-party software can go undetected, according to DataGrail’s research. “This phenomenon will continue until companies make investments to reduce business risk and discover the systems that process our personal information.”

Gupta, for his part, maintains that iResearch Service’s data points to widespread delusion among chief marketing officers. “CMOs not being concerned and feeling prepared feels like ’CMO talk’ – which means they have to project confidence in order to protect their territory, even if they aren’t actually confident.”

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Beyond blind confidence, he also posits that “the market has ’brainwashed’ people into feeling unconcerned and confident” when it comes to navigating privacy changes. “There are so many solutions being peddled and so much content marketing bluster being put out there, it’s easy to feel like there’s an industry ‘security blanket’ in place – especially if you don’t understand the nuts and bolts of identity.”

Ultimately, the marketers positioned to succeed in a more privacy-centric future, in Gupta’s estimation, are those who are more wary. “Addressability is going to decline tremendously in the next couple of years – it already has a lot – and this will fundamentally impact planning, targeting and measurement,” he says. “The ones that understand what’s happening and have the appropriate amount of fear, and are strategizing and planning accordingly will be the ones to come out on top.”

To read more from The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, where we’ll be demystifying data & privacy for marketers in 2023, head over to our special hub.

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