Consumers Want Personalization And Privacy

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Have you ever shopped on Amazon?

Probably one of the stupidest questions ever asked in 2015. Especially, when it’s being asked on a blog that focuses on digital transformation, and technology that helps brands better connect with consumers. Of course, you have. Who hasn’t shopped at Amazon? Do you like the experience? Have you ever tried to log out of Amazon and just start browsing the site without being logged into your personal account, or without any history? I have. It sucks. It knows nothing about me and – as a consumer – you are simply lost. Amazon becomes more and more valuable to consumers the more and more it’s used. Amazon uses your data and information to create a better experience for you. Consumers say that they hate advertising, but the truth is that they hate bad/untargeted advertising. Advertising works when it knows its audience. The more it knows, the better it works. When it works like that, people want it. Don’t believe me? Head over to YouTube and see how many millions of views certain TV ads get. Consumers who are interested, willfully seek out these ads, watch them, share and – ultimately – buy the products or services.

Does that offend you?

Do you feel that Amazon is breaching your privacy? Do you feel like they are abusing their relationship with you and the data that they are collecting? This is core to the argument that I make in my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete (which came out in trade paperback last month… in case, you have yet to pick up a copy). The reasoning is that consumers have completely confused the difference between “privacy” and “personalization.” It’s not just consumers. This is a failure of proper business practices. Brands have done a terrible job (some on purpose, others by accident) in helping consumers understand both the value that is being exchanged for their data/information, and how the company handles their most private information (credit card accounts and other forms of personal data). The best brands have created a digital chasm between the usage of the user (the stuff that makes for great personalization) and their data (the stuff that makes a consumer personally identifiable). The two streams should never cross, match or be used in ways that haven’t been explicitly agreed to by the consumer. 

Is this a dream?

While Amazon has its detractors, it has worked for them. It is also working for many other businesses. The more connected businesses are to their consumers in understanding their habits and usage, the better positioned they are to make a supremely frictionless experience. Billions of dollars are at play. And, when that amount of money is on the table, it’s hard not to see the other side. A few days ago, TechCrunch published a scathing editorial piece based on a new study titled, The Online Privacy Lie Is Unraveling.

Please read this:

“Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. Our study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened… By misrepresenting the American people and championing the tradeoff argument, marketers give policymakers false justifications for allowing the collection and use of all kinds of consumer data often in ways that the public find objectionable. Moreover, the futility we found, combined with a broad public fear about what companies can do with the data, portends serious difficulties not just for individuals but also — over time — for the institution of consumer commerce. It is not difficult to predict widespread social tensions, and concerns about democratic access to the marketplace, if Americans continue to be resigned to a lack of control over how, when, and what marketers learn about them.”

We – as a marketing community – must do something about this now.

I am starting to feel like I am all alone on this issue. It’s starting to feel like brands and marketers are getting drunk on the data… and the allure of it. Like once they have it, they are entitled to do with it what they will (including sharing it with third parties). The laws shouldn’t have to be clear. This is a question of morals and scruples. It’s a question of businesses acting in the best faith, on behalf of their consumers because they want them to buy from them, to be loyal to them, and for their customers to tell everyone they know about them. This shell game that is being played out with people’s data may be lining the pockets of many brands, but it is eroding the public trust. Without trust, the money will not follow. Consumer advocates are important, but in this case it feels like we need to do a much better job of self-regulating, with the perspective that when data is exchanged between a consumer and a brand that the value of the exchange is always to the benefit of the consumer, and that the consumer knows what they re relinquishing in this exchange.

It seems simple enough.