The Privacy vs. Personalisation Conflict

There will be those who firmly sit in either camp, but increasingly perhaps there are those like myself who sit with one foot firmly poised either side of the fence.  Whilst I respect the need for privacy, I also see the opportunity to harness data to serve a personalised user experience; at the right time, in the right place and importantly with the right message.


The press continue to address the subject, such as the recent Guardian article – Shops can track you via your smartphone, privacy watchdog warns.  The article highlights that unbeknown to most of us, data is being harvested from your mobile phone – the web pages your view, the apps you use, the geolocation of where you’ve been and regularly visit – big brother is indeed watching.  The irony here is whilst the journalist is scaremongering you about the data being gathered from your smart phone, at the same time that you are reading this article, the Guardian has allowed data companies to be capturing your data to then sell on to advertisers.  Just take a look – whilst some of these are for internal data capture (Google tools, etc), there are 26 pixels and tags in total on the site capturing who you are, and building a profile of your online behaviour, interests and potential purchase intentions.  Data is courtesy of a clever little chrome plugin Ghostery.


Outrageous I hear you think, I never agreed to this invasion of smartphone privacy – well folks you actually did.  Unbeknown to most of us, we all agreed for our personal data to be mined, whenever we hit that agree button rather than trawling through the 30 pages of terms and conditions at the last software update.  In fact, why not check for yourself (apologies to Android users) but go into the Privacy menu on your iPhone, scroll to the bottom and click on advertising, and the section ‘About Advertising & Privacy’ and you’ll soon realise you’re opted in to giving away your deepest and darkest secrets!


Laying aside the privacy issue for a moment, but in a world where advertising is intrusive and unavoidable – what if it could be personally tailored to you?  Excuse the simpleness of the example, but you’ve decided like a lot of us that you really should start to exercise regularly and have been reading up on how to get into running.  You’ve watched videos on YouTube, read blogs, articles on Runners World and have recently been into local sports stores.  You are now served messages about buying running gear, with introductory offers and rather than the same messages over and over again, there is some sequential differences based on your interactions and further research.

In theory this sounds great, but I will admit that as extensive as data is it often doesn’t know when to stop.  You’ve now bought all your running gear, you’ve been out on those first few painful runs and yet you are still being bombarded with running gear offers and messaging.  There are some advertisers who really need a 101 in frequency capping; leaving a bitter taste in people’s mouths and negating the efforts of those trying to do this well.  I’ll admit it’s far from perfect yet, and the use of multiple devices creates further challenges to be overcome.

The conflict rages on, and with the rise of connected devices and ‘internet of things’ for those of us concerned about protecting our data, the task will only get tougher.  On the flip side, more data, harnessed and organised correctly can only help to fuel the personalisation quest.  If only my budget would stretch to one of those new shiny fridges that orders food for me.


What are we doing with all this BIG DATA?

I’ve recently completed a module on big data as part of the squared online course – a fantastic digital marketing qualification by Google.  With such a wealth of data, it provides a great opportunity as marketers to serve timely, relevant, contextual and engaging communications to meet consumer needs identified by all this data in the first place – but is there such a thing as too much data?

I’ve used Chrome for a number of years now and I love the random but useful plug-ins and a recent favourite is Ghostery.  This lets you see the number of cookies, tags, web trackers, ad networks, etc that a particular site has set up – and it’s fascinating to see just the sheer volume of tags that some sites use; to the point where I sometimes question just how worthwhile all this data is – and surely most of it is never used.  This site for instance has 62 Ghostery tags on it – I’ll almost forgive them because it is a great article regarding #mashtags:

With so much data available – why are some of the biggest companies so poor at utilising it?  I thought I’d share a few recent examples where I have cringed or smiled applausingly at their use of ‘big data’.  A few months ago I booked some flights to the USA with Opodo as they offered the best value of being able to book flights with multiple airlines.  No sooner than a couple of days after booking the flights did I receive an email offering half price flights to the USA.  Hello!  I’ve just booked flights with you to the USA, why on earth would I be interested in half price flights when I’ve already booked them – where was the hotel, or car hire offers specific to the destinations I had booked?  They now had a huge amount of personal data about me, and yet continued to push the mass blanket emails to me rather than offer me relevant and contextual offers. #cringe

This morning I got my weekly email from TM Lewin showcasing their new range of casual shirts.  Now I love to play hard to get when it comes to marketing emails, probably because as a fellow marketer I’m less patient to poor experience – so for me to click through it really has to be relevant and interesting.  One particular shirt took my fancy, and so I clicked through to the site and contemplated adding it to basket.  I was on my iPhone and didn’t have a wallet to hand to make the purchase.  Later this evening I received the following email – I know what you’re thinking, nice shirt huh?:Image

I actually love the subject line – well yes you can tempt me back as I really like this shirt.  I specifically clicked through on this shirt this morning and I now want to buy it even more.  Well done TM Lewin, brilliant use of big data – one impressed customer! #smile

Now there may be some who question or have a problem with the use of their personal data, but I believe that more people will come around as they have better experiences of it – the more relevant, timely, contextual and engaging the message is, the less consumers will resent it.

The only downside of ‘big data’ for marketers is that you are constantly bombarded with display/remarketing adverts for your own products.  We spend so much time on our own sites, testing and looking to make improvements to user journeys and user experience – if only there were a way to prevent it.  I love big data and it’s potential to make consumers smile – but sometimes it’s true what they say, less is more!