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How proactive marketers protect data and win customers at the same time

data woman
(Image credit: Future)

News of the massive $888 million fine levied against Amazon by the Luxembourg data protection authority CNPD for processing personal data in violation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was easily the most high-profile data privacy story in a year full of increasing data breaches and new data privacy regulations. The message was clear: It is time for companies to get serious about data protection strategy.

Around the world, data protection regulations have taken center stage. China’s long-awaited Personal Information Protection Law, which builds around “continuous consent,” was passed in August and takes effect on Nov. 1 as its own tougher version of GDPR. Some states in the US have also passed their own comprehensive data privacy laws this year, joining California. The states share some provisions, but Virginia borrows key concepts from the GDPR.

All of this may make the environment seem too fractured at the moment for enterprise marketers to get a real sense of how to move forward with their own data initiatives. Yet, for brands, waiting for definitive policies isn’t an option. The pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation across the entire business environment, advancing the pace of online spending by about two years. Now, companies are sitting on a larger mountain of e-commerce data than ever. 

Forward-thinking marketers are proactively addressing their own companies’ data privacy and protection policies while advancing new tools to win customers and market share. They’re making moves to better understand and protect their data in ways that will strengthen trust with customers. Technology that can leverage data such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will accelerate the ability to find and market with surgical precision. But those same technologies could entice marketers to cross a line from strategic marketing to customer creep. 

Data privacy and protection should play a leading role in marketing strategy because consumers demand it. But that strategy must be informed by the urgency of stricter regulations and heavier consequences. Fail and you stand to lose customers, revenue, and market share.

Marketers’ role, approach will shift

In an era where customers demand a compelling, personalized experience, the pressure is squarely on marketers’ shoulders to gain an edge. No matter what laws may come, marketers have access to terabytes of data -- in the cloud, on-prem, and/or hosted by third parties -- and the technology exists to bring it all together in the name of strategic marketing. We have AI and automation to parse the data and create new customer experiences. 

But this opportunity is only as big as marketers’ ability to maintain customer trust. SAS recently found that nearly three-fourths of consumers are concerned about data privacy, and the increasingly high-profile nature of data breaches continues to erode trust. 

Reputation is still everything when it comes to consumer confidence. Marketers should start by understanding how common data rights apply to their products, services, and customers. That includes things like right of access, right of rectification, right of deletion, right of restriction, right of portability, right of opt-out, and right against automated decision. 

Properly addressing these rights is a solid first step toward discovering and protecting data in a fast and scalable manner. It also gives you the opportunity to responsibly align data with consumer preferences to better understand and cater to each individual.

How to make marketing more targeted with data, personalization

If marketing, historically, has been about a broad-stroke approach, consider this the rise of laser-focused marketing. A rifle shot instead of a shotgun. Putting people into clusters or groups without truly understanding them as individuals is a mistake, especially when your competitors are already investing heavily in customer insights and predictive tools. 

There’s no more guessing about who’s who because marketers know customer interests through data they’re collecting, and they can use it to engage prospects more effectively. It’s about finding opportunities to help customers by cutting away all the fluffy ambiguous messaging and determining what’s important to them. Carmakers, for example, no longer have to spend time, effort, and money marketing to people who have no intention to own a car. It used to be that we knew what we didn’t know. Today, we have a much better understanding of who to reach and when to connect with them. 

Identity marketing is not a new concept, but it has taken on a new life thanks to the power of data and technology. And with great power comes great responsibility, as this data needs to be respected and protected. It also provides the single source of truth that we’ve long needed for precision marketing. It can follow shoppers wherever and however they interact with a brand, enabling marketers to offer personalized products and services that yield high conversion rates in a secure, trusted environment. 

But it requires a good first impression and assurances you’ll be maniacally careful with their data. Without it you lose their trust. That means creating frictionless engagement across secure registration and login, multi-factor authentication, and ongoing data protection. Hackers don’t rest on their last data breach. They are innovators in a growth industry with billions on the line. Marketers are therefore the first line of defense and must use information judiciously, obsessing about risks vis a vis security. One failure will mean a loss of customer trust and possibly their business entirely.

The confluence of strong internal data protection coupled with growing regulator advocacy will change the marketing playbook. Some marketers may view this as strong headwinds, but they should see it as an inflection point and a huge opportunity. Better data security, privacy, and AI/ML tools means greater efficiency and a higher ROI. This provides a positive, modern customer experience and greater brand loyalty that is the bedrock of an omnichannel strategy. With the right discipline, marketers can respond with greater agility for future data protection regulation at the local or national level. Better prospecting, higher ROI, and strong data protections are the hallmarks of the future in marketing.

Jeffrey Fleischman, Altimetrik

Jeffrey Fleischman is an accomplished senior executive with over 35 years of success in the financial services, banking, insurance and e-commerce industries. At Altimetrik, Jeff heads the company’s brand, marketing, public relations and communications functions.