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It is universally recognized that data plays a crucial role in the overall success of a company’s marketing initiatives and sales objectives. This begs the question: why are we still playing by the rules of giant media conglomerates who are unwilling to give advertisers and publishers access and control of their customers’ data?
It’s time to disrupt the walled garden status quo and truly lean into empowering consumers’ ownership of their identity by providing real tools for data control and enabling partnerships that redefine advertiser-publisher engagement with the giants of technology.
The give and take of enclosed gardens
With 87% of consumers starting their own online travel purchase, establishing a digital presence remains critical for modern marketers. When was the last time you trusted a consumer business without a website, Yelp! page or social media presence? (Author’s Note: Your favorite speakeasy bar or neighborhood watering hole gets a lounge pass here.)
At this point, last year, Google, Facebook and Amazon accounted for about 64% of digital ad spend in the United States. This dominant market share is indicative of their huge inventory of first-party user data. It’s not hard to see why these giants have successfully maintained their authority in recent years. While using these platforms has its benefits, there are significant sacrifices from a consumer, advertiser, and publisher perspective.
Because these closed platforms own their own audiences and take control of all the data loaded into their system, advertisers and publishers don’t get the benefits of valuable two-way information flow, and consumers suffer. Without feedback data and the ability to move data, it can be incredibly difficult to gauge the effectiveness of your campaign and figure out if you’re reaching the right people at the right time for the right cost.
Application for more personalized marketing
These restrictions can negatively disrupt the customer experience. When cross-platform data transfer is impeded, tracking customer journeys becomes nearly impossible. This means that knowing exactly who your customer is, what to tell them, and how to respect both their privacy and shopping preferences has become increasingly difficult, all while the consumer is coming to expect it more than ever.
In addition to consumer demand for more personalized marketing, we are now at the forefront of increased privacy and transparency expectations. At Cisco 2022 Consumer Privacy Survey81% of respondents agree that the way organizations handle customers’ personal data indicates how they view and respect consumer privacy.
As digital technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT) evolve, consumers are increasingly aware of how their personal data is being used and become less comfortable with monetizing their data without their participation active. Consumers understand that there is no free lunch, but that’s not the same as assuming you own the rights to their identity and preference data because you told them so in your fine print (which they probably didn’t read).
A walled garden by any other name: Apple Hide My Email
Apple’s “Hide My Email” feature is a great illustration of the complicated relationship between advertisers, publishers and consumers. According to Apple, this feature allows users to “create unique, randomized email addresses for use with apps, websites, and more, so your personal email can remain private” (i.e. shared only with Apple).
Ultimately, the user is establishing an even deeper relationship with Apple and not with the brand with which he intends to interact. A win for Apple (well played) and, initially, what might seem like a win for the consumer. However, the consumer is now unknowingly complicit in handing control of the pipes and data over to Apple, believing the real value proposition here is to protect their inbox.
The implications for marketers are obvious. Sending segmented and relevant emails based on a user’s behavior is no longer an option with fake email addresses. It also blocks the ability to build a consistent profile about the user. This makes it difficult to take advantage of new leads and nurture relationships with potential customers.
While consumers might believe that a feature like “Hide My Email” is Apple taking the lead in protecting user privacy, it’s important to take a step back and think about who really benefits from this idea. To be clear, it’s not like this feature is a scam; is that this feature favors Apple more than the consumer and actually hurts the companies the consumer wants to interact with.
Cut the hedges to save the gardens
While gatekeepers like Google, Apple, and Facebook have convinced us to get used to centralized, closed ecosystems, it’s not unreasonable to imagine a future where that won’t be the case. Companies like CompuServe, AOL, MySpace, and Friendster, for example, have had first- or second-mover benefits, massive adoption, and sizable closed systems successfully established. But where are they today? When someone tells you their email address is email@example.com, what’s your first reaction?
Today’s incumbents should study their short-term history books (or Wikipedia) and perhaps instead of doubling down on bigger walls, look for winning partners for the next generation of technology and meet the expectations of today’s multi-generational user base .
Rather than tolerating the status quo, we can start by metaphorically cutting the hedges and empowering consumers (yes, that’s us) to vote with our personal data and wallets.
Below are some strategies strategic gardeners should consider when planning seasonal trimming.
A better connector: Universal IDs
Universal ID solutions create a unique identifier assigned to users that allows information to be passed on to approved partners within the advertising ecosystem. Countless pieces of data such as lifestyle preferences, interests, and even propensities to make a purchase come together to create a picture that defines a truly holistic consumer identity. Using this information allows advertisers to serve ads that are relevant to individual users, giving them more control and privacy.
This is a newer and still emerging industry with several disparate solutions. We’re early days both in determining which Universal ID solutions will achieve broad and shared adoption for interoperability, and how various backyards will or won’t play by their own rules.
Consumers under control
Taking it a step further, what if we lived in a world where consumers have more say in the type of marketing they see? What if users could actively activate personalized advertising preferences?
Imagine when you log into a browser like Chrome or Safari, being asked to accept or decline a disclosure about how your data is being used while actively telling marketers the types of advertising you want to see, or better yet, the types of products or services you are currently in-market for.
We are already seeing similar concepts demonstrated by organizations like Global Privacy Control (GPC)designed to allow Internet users to notify companies of their privacy preferences, such as whether or not they want their personal information sold or shared.
The first step towards this progressive future of the open internet begins with difficult but critical conversations about data exchange, transparent consent and consumer controls. The most logical brands to start that conversation would be key players like Facebook, Google or Apple, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them.
These companies are actively fighting wars on many fronts with US and foreign regulators, a decline in consumer loyalty, and an increase in class action lawsuits. Meanwhile, publisher and advertiser revenue retention and value exchange are suffering from unnecessary extra costs, poor transparency, and ultimately confused and frustrated consumers.
It’s insane to think that just one of these companies could flip the script on the age-old walled garden narrative and actually outpace the competition by repositioning itself as the new gold standard for respecting consumers, our rights to our data, and doing better with their partners and customers, publishers and advertisers?
At the risk of dating myself and beating the hell out of this analogy, I still remember when it was nice to have an @aol.com email address. Perhaps a brand new America Online 3.0 is the unwalled garden we are trying to save ourselves from this downward spiral.
Rob Rokoff is SVP of Business Development at Verisk Marketing Solutions.
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