Balancing privacy and digital marketing in the information age


James Bayhack | Director | Sub-Saharan Africa | Clockwork Media | mail me

The world of digital marketing is in a state of upheaval. With everyone from government policymakers to independent web browsers changing and updating privacy policies, businesses are faced with a digital advertising minefield.

Another spanner in the works is that while the COVID-19 pandemic spurred innovation in and acceptance of the growing digital economy, it also saw a quarter of small businesses close their doors, this according to the Beyond COVID-19 survey conducted between July 2020 and March 2021.

For small, medium and even large businesses, targeted digital and mobile advertising has become a crucial tool in attracting customers and surviving these challenging times. But, as the pressure on privacy escalates, tension between these business aspects is coming to a head.

The good news, however, is that digital advertising and privacy are not mutually exclusive. With the right technology and the right tools, it is possible to strike a balance between the two.

Navigating current privacy protection guidelines

Over the last few years, countries all over the world have been getting to grips with government-mandated privacy and protection regulations, from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe to South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act.

These laws aim to protect consumers’ private information and create a degree of transparency around how collected personal data is used.

As people become more aware of cybercrimes and personal privacy infringements – to be expected in today’s digital economy where a huge amount of personal and business transactions are made online – concerns over digital marketing practices are mounting.

As we come closer to the intersection between privacy concerns and digital technology, major industry players are making moves and taking a stand. Web browsers Firefox and Safari have already blocked third-party cookies and Google Chrome seems to be following suit, with plans to do away with cookies by 2023.

In the digital advertising world, cookies do three very important things. They assist with targeting, so companies can better focus ad campaign placement. Through attribution, they allow you to measure the effectiveness of a campaign. And optimisation helps businesses enhance ad reach to receive the best customer engagement.

In the business world, digital advertising without the use of cookies is a daunting prospect, but there isn’t only one way to attract customers and collect targeted data.

The rise of personalisation in digital advertising

As it turns out, customers aren’t completely against sharing personal information. A survey by the Federation of European Data and Marketing found that while 75% of consumers are willing to share data, 89% feel that businesses are the ones benefiting most from this data exchange.

The trick now will be to prioritise customer centricity and personalisation so that users feel the value of personal data exchange.

The crux of the matter is that the digital ad industry relies heavily on data-driven technology to deliver advertising tailored towards the interests and preferences of internet users. This is known as online behavioural advertising (OBA).

To accommodate new privacy regulations, alternative tech-powered advertising techniques have been developed. Here are some of the concepts you should get to know…

Zero-party data

This is data or private information that a customer intentionally and deliberately shares with a brand in the hopes of improving their experience or extracting more value from the exchange.

Zero-party data can be gathered in the form of online questionnaires, surveys, or even quizzes on social media platforms.

Customers willingly share information to establish how they want to be recognised by the brand, giving you the opportunity to create a more personalised experience for them. This does not rely on cookies.

The future of tracking

The death of cookies places audience tracking in a tricky situation. For subscription sites, there are options like email registration and internal tracking technology, but this is likely to face privacy policy investigation further down the line.

Browser fingerprinting allows for cross-device tracking – crucial at a time when consumers are switching from mobile devices to laptops and PCs. But, even here, tracking information is based on converging data points and the likelihood of it being the same user. Thus, hard evidence might be difficult to come by.

Privacy-friendly tracking

The recently founded SaaS organisation TraceDock provides an important solution here. Browsers with built-in tracking prevention and ad blockers mean that marketers could be missing up to 30% of their marketing data.

Some browsers prevent Google Analytics from working properly on a site, which makes collecting accurate first-party data difficult. TraceDock allows businesses to recover data in a privacy-friendly way by promoting cookieless data collection, server-side transaction tracking, and first-party data collection.

The company firmly keeps customer privacy and protection in mind, while assisting in regaining attribution data that may have been missed by Google Analytics.

Contextual advertising

As opposed to traditional OBA, contextual advertising relies on contextual targeting to gather customer information. This targeting is based on page information, or the site of the ad space, rather than user data.

It’s often just as, if not more successful, in predicting what the current user will be interested in engaging with next. This then leads to contextual optimisation, which does not rely on user data or cookies.

Hopefully, more digital agencies will adopt these policies to provide contextual advertising solutions.

Don’t panic just yet

With these developments, it might seem that the odds are stacked against you in terms of reaching customers and generating important business leads, but there are always alternatives.

Recent regulations have forced companies to look at the way they serve customers content and, perhaps, have even brought about more direct and personalised solutions to digital marketing.

In prioritising customer centricity, reaching customers on the platforms they use, and even updating direct messaging services with push notifications, chatbots, or CRM tools, businesses can build long-standing relationships with customers and thrive in today’s chaotic economy.

Harmony between customers and businesses in the digital advertising industry is achievable, if you’re willing to adapt.



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