Photo Credit: getrefe

Should marketers be fighting online privacy?

Recently, Washington officially nixed rules that would have required ISPs to seek permission before selling customers’ browsing history. Of course, selling user data is nothing new–it’s a critical part of Facebook and Google’s business models.

But with the repeal of the rules–which had yet to go into effect–internet providers could sell not just demographic information but information down to which sites you’ve visited, how long you spent there, and which device you used.

Understandably, the move was roundly applauded by the Data & Marketing Association and many of the other largest industry groups as keeping the doors open to new, more personalized ways to target audiences.

But should it be? Should we as an industry need to fight against users’ online privacy–something 74% of Americans say is very important to them–to succeed?

More info doesn’t always equal better results

Certainly modern Web analytics have given our industry once unimaginable insights into who our audiences are and how they behave. And user data has successfully fueled innumerable campaigns, big and small.

But more and more, the best marketing focuses less on users’ history and instead aims to answer their needs at exactly the right time. Capitalizing on these micro-moments becomes a way for brands to serve their audience, demonstrate they understand their needs, and position themselves as a trusted resource or solution moving forward. It’s about understanding context versus slicing and dicing demographics.

After all, you know which recent marketing effort probably had some of the deepest audience data ever behind it? The Clinton campaign. What they didn’t have was a clear understanding of the political realities in which their audiences went about their lives and made decisions.

Because ultimately, context is everything. Which leads to my next point…

Breaking unwanted barriers

In many ways, tracking online activity has simply become a fact of life. We click on a story about our favorite team, then search for game scores, and maybe we get an ad for a fantasy league.

Most of us have come to expect this. And it’s fair to say even those of us who make a living putting these kinds of campaigns together have moments when we get a little creeped out about the products we searched on one site following us around the rest of the Web.

But that’s online. And ultimately exists as its own self-contained digital reality.

Now imagine searching for plastic surgery options then walking out to your mailbox a week later to find it stuffed with mailers for local surgeons. Or researching a summer trip, and then getting smacked with telemarketers pitching exotic getaways.

It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of someone being the first mover.

Why not better experiences?

Is there a level of targeting needed to reach the right audiences? Of course. And understanding the wants, needs and aspirations of your market are critical. But that’s really all good storytelling needs to get a leg up.

Look no further than Coca-Cola’s back-to-school campaign on Snapchat. By demonstrating a firm grasp of the moment their audience was living, and the desire to share their experiences, the brand upped the completion rate for their 10-second videos by 54%.

Coke succeeded by being authentic and relevant to their audience. Not because they knew these kids’ browsing habits.

Let’s face it, selling user data isn’t going to end and the biggest collectors of data–Facebook and Google–aren’t affected by Congress’ decision.

But if our industry has to rely on scuttling further efforts to boost user privacy rather than producing experiences and content people actually want, then maybe we need to take a hard look at whether we’re actually doing our jobs.

Originally published at

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