Personalisation without personal data?
If you were to pick one factor most likely to shape the next 10 years in marketing you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better answer than ‘data’, but for the first-time marketers have to start facing the possibility that that evolution might mean facing a world of scarcer not more plentiful data.
image by Anthony Lewis, VE
We’re often told the media world is only going to get faster and more complicated from this point on, and that data is ultimately our passport to navigating that. Data has apparently overtaken oil to be the most valuable commodity on earth, entire companies like Facebook arguably build their value upon it, and of course, established businesses like mine are continuing to transform their operations & effectiveness armed with it.
Google’s Matt Brittin, EMEA president of one of the world’s biggest data companies, is just the sort of likely evangelist for the data transformation of modern marketing. As one of the headline speakers of this year’s Dmexco conference, however, Matt had quite a different message to marketers: prepare for a world where you deliver personalisation without personal data. Make no mistake that’s a seismic business pivot dressed up in business casual clothing.
The biggest two product updates they shared both played right into this narrative - firstly an approach to digital targeting which looked to pool audiences of 1,000+ similar individuals into targeting clusters to sidestep the issue of targeting specific individuals altogether. Then secondly their head of media Emily Henderson shared a trial they had run with The Guardian doubling down on article metadata to drive personalised advertising in their recipe section entirely targeted by content context and not user identity. Rather than just knowing you were looking at a recipe, the test could serve a user ads based on the knowledge that they were looking at a quick chocolate dessert for two people, so perhaps were planning a romantic night in.
You could dismiss both as throw away gestures aimed to please hungry journalists and regulators quick to look closely at privacy practices, but their overall notion of ‘making the web work in a privacy-first world’ is something everyone in the industry needs to face. A year after its introduction, the GDPR waters are still relatively untested and while much of programmatic and data-driven advertising has continued relatively unchanged there are sure to be many future test cases as well as new challenges as other ePrivacy directives evolve.
On the other side of the industry are the brands of the WFA (World Federation of Advertisers) who held their own meeting the day before the Dmexco show and were represented on the main stage by Unilever’s Luis di Como. Looking ahead to Advertising Week he teased progress being made on both cross-media measurement and the new ‘Global Alliance for Responsible Media’, of which GSK Consumer Healthcare is a founding member. Both of these initiatives aim to solve some of the real challenges looming over advertising for the past couple of years. Whether it be measurement and effectiveness or brand safety and responsibility, both are intrinsically tied to questions of what is practical and what is possible in terms of data usage and privacy.
Personally, I was hugely proud to see our CDO Marc Speichert talking on the topic of innovation and the theme that ‘what got you here won’t get you there’ – owning the need for businesses to be more agile, to put data and digital at their centre but to do so in a way which reflects the needs of modern consumers. In fact, he summed it up well by saying that the key to innovation is putting the consumer at the centre of everything you do, and in building an effective data strategy understanding both the business opportunity but also the consumer expectation is key. We’ve made exciting leaps forward over the past couple of years in building a stronger data view of our consumers but we’re also preparing for the challenge of finding ways to truly understand consumers in a landscape where that data may be less available. Taking direct control of our Google ad tech stack and the appointment of Publicis and their People Cloud platform as our global media agency are examples of where we’re building strong partnerships to guide us on the road ahead.
Digital as a medium has naturally brought with it new targeting and data-led opportunities. It’s also brought elevated consumer expectations as we’re increasingly used to experiencing personalised and tailored media feeds. Yet data has always brought with it challenges which means responsible advertisers approach it cautiously - whether it’s issues of unnecessary complexity, reach limiting targeting, questionable expense, or of course privacy and fair usage.
Google’s pivot is just the beginning of what may yet become the biggest data trend of them all, how to deliver on the promises and expectations of data without necessarily having very much of the stuff. If you believe everything you read in the news you’d be forgiven for thinking that presents a major threat to the likes of Google and Facebook’s businesses, but for all the talk of data they really monetise eyeballs in the same way as good old fashioned TV. On the contrary, regulations like GDPR can actually strengthen the positions of large platforms like these who can extrapolate privacy safe targeting approaches from the data they do collect, rather than relying on trading data from other sources.
None of which is to say a modern marketer can shy away from having a clear data strategy – they absolutely do.
The point is that the strategy needs to be razor-sharp about what data you really need (and what you don’t need), how you can work around the fact that your data picture may never be 100% complete, and most important of all…in a world where data may be everywhere and nowhere at the same time, how you can still make your brand feel personally relevant at times when personal data isn’t available?
Jerry Daykin is the EMEA media director of GSK Consumer Healthcare.