It’s Not Personalization Without a Choice
Are Americans fierce defenders of their privacy, or web junkies willing to trade personal data for any discount or freebie? The answer is yes.
The answer doesn’t make sense because neither does the question.
People have a messy, contextual view of privacy that looks inconsistent in surveys, but makes sense to the individuals. Privacy is personal. Thus, personalization is a contradiction if it doesn’t give people a choice over privacy. Thankfully, we marketers can resolve this dilemma.
It Always Depends
People understand that their data is a commodity. Indeed, research by the Pew Research Center found that Americans would share personal information or allow surveillance in exchange for something of “perceived value.” But, that willingness varied depending on the scenario.
For example, 47 percent of respondents were OK with retail loyalty cards that provide discounts in exchange for the right to track shopping habits and sell the data to third parties. Only 37 percent would welcome auto insurers to track their driving in exchange for personalized discounts. 33 percent were OK with a social media platform using their activity to target ads.
In other words, personalization is only valuable if the user thinks it is. That forces marketers to make too many assumptions.
There’s no consensus on the value of data or personalization. However, one study might have nailed what matters.
Researchers at Columbia Business School surveyed more than 8,000 people and found overwhelming consensus on two points. First, 85 percent of respondents wanted to know more about the data companies collect. Second, 86 percent of respondents wanted “to exercise greater control” over that personal data.
Essentially, people agree that privacy should be personalized.
Personalization isn’t homogenous though. Everything from auto-fill tools and coupon engines to triggered emails and Facebook ads fly under its banner. Just as people react differently to chihuahuas and pit bulls — although they’re both dogs — people won’t react equally to every breed of personalization. Let’s honor that.
The Personalization Test
I say a service isn’t “personalized” if it forces consumers to disclose private data without consent. Here’s a test: Would the customer need to use a third-party service to stop the “personalization”?
Consider ad retargeting. Sometimes, it’s too redundant and aggressive. Nobody thinks, “Ah, thanks for continually tempting me to buy shoes I decided I didn’t want, didn’t need, or couldn’t afford.”
To stop retargeting, consumers have a few options. They can block cookies on the web browser, impairing other services. They can use an adblocker, which is bad for publishers and marketers. Or, they can use anonymous browsers like Tor or Comodo Dragon.
Thus, retargeting fails the test. You must go around the brand to stop retargeting.
The test works in cases where personalization is inseparable from the service. Uber and Google Maps, for instance, must track your location to work. Netflix and YouTube track your viewing patterns to suggest content. You can choose to use other services if that’s uncomfortable.
AT&T presented a murkier case in 2015 when it offered residents of Kansas City a choice: accept tracking and be targeted with ads, or pay us an extra $29 per month for anonymity. That seems more like a hostage situation than a choice (not many alternatives in telecom). I say it fails the test. Were AT&T to offer people a discount on services if they accepted tracking, it would pass the test. The default setting matters.
Personalization starts with a choice about privacy, or it’s not personalization. Let’s maximize the perceived value of these services then hand the steering wheel to consumers. To make different choices about privacy in different scenarios isn’t contradictory — it’s conscientious.
As VP Digital Strategy, Lindsay draws on 10+ years of experience in digital marketing and is responsible for driving R2i’s approach and methodologies for integrated customer experience strategies and marketing analytics. She helps clients create optimized and impactful customer experiences across all touchpoints, screens, and channels.