The rise of people power in digital marketing is coming

Digital marketing is broken. A shift in power towards the consumer could fix it

Personal Information Management systems are designed to protect & empower users

I attended the MyData conference in Helsinki last week and it gave a glimpse of a world where Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon (GAFA to the attendees) will be forced to play second fiddle to a new emerging player in the business of selling data. That player is you.

To give you some context I am a digital marketer. For the last 11 years I have been in an industry whose model has become increasingly broken. It is VERY difficult today for brands to have relevant conversations with the audiences they are trying to reach. Defunct tracking methods, greedy ad-tech companies and the walled platforms of the bay area behemoths mean that the current system is broken, especially if you’re a consumer, publisher or brand.

Digital ROI is becoming increasingly hard to measure and the ad networks tasked with delivering relevant communications are so susceptible to spam and fraud that it’s no wonder that a quarter of adults now use ad-blockers. On top of that the privacy situation is at best a grey area and we’re not expecting our governments to sort it out any time soon.

Most normal people I speak to just get the feeling that as net citizens, we’re not getting a fair deal when it comes to how our information is used online.

If the system is broken where do we go from here?

The problem is one of value exchange. Google, Facebook and co provide free services in return for our profile data which they then monetise across the internet through ads. There are a bunch of other players who track our behaviour and provide nothing of value in return. You can argue that their revenues eventually pay for the content we read on our favourite news sites but there are so many layers in between that the whole eco-system is a mess. Ultimately brands just want to show ads to users who might want to buy their stuff. If only they could build a relationship directly with the individual say in return for some service or discount…

Enter the PIM (Personal Information Management) — an environment where a user can store, manage, control and importantly use the data spawned by their snowballing digital footprint to their benefit. The startups, researchers and innovators behind PIMs have a number of different approaches; privacy and convenience were prominent but finance, education, health, public services were all represented at the conference. In short the potential of personal information management cuts across our entire digital existence.

What’s in it for me?

One of the startups presenting at the event proclaimed that having a PIM was worth up to €3,000 per person per year. This is through a combination of value exchange, discounts and life efficiencies. The argument goes that big data science and cloud computing have hugely disrupted all aspects of the business world. Finance, HR, operations, supply chain, sales and marketing have all been empowered by the data revolution. Imagine the potential if these tools and methods were made available to the consumer. Jamie Smith from Ctrl + Shift argued that this type of platform could help consumers in three key ways

  1. Decision support: help in making the right choices for insurance renewals, purchases and other instances where there are multiple vendors looking for your business
  2. Life management: health apps and things like budgeting tools that provide you with the analytics to improve how you live
  3. Personal data management: the storage, protection and where necessary distribution of the data you collect. From ID management to privacy controls

One thing is for sure, for a PIM to succeed it would need a large user base to work with. Which begs the question why haven’t we seen this kind of platform emerge yet? I asked this question of a number of investors and experts at the conference and everyone agreed that scale was a key challenge that needs to be overcome.

Is this the new digital marketing model?

Which got me thinking. Digital marketing has scale. Scale likely to be worth over $500bn next year. Digital marketing also must undergo reform to retain the trust of users and balance the flow of money between dying publishers and disgruntled consumers.

Maybe the Personal Information industry and the Digital marketing industry should hang out. They might even make beautiful babies.