Growing use of new marketing media and technology has moved American consumer opinion in its favor since the Covid-19 pandemic began, a new study finds, pointing to further adoption in homes. However, consumers remain aware of the negatives of marketing technology: the “techlash” is still a reality. The study of both consumers and marketers was released by the American Marketing Association-New York (AMA-NY) and conducted by Charney Research and Toluna.

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The study finds that even as consumers have shifted to digital channels, many are concerned about data collection, marketers are aware of the issue, and both groups believe it can affect companies’ bottom lines.

Jason Revzon, AMA-NY president, says, “This unique study – the only one comparing consumer and marketer attitudes – shows that widespread use of new marketing technology and associated worry about its privacy implications are two sides of the same coin. Companies need to use this technology, but they also need to be genuinely responsive to customer concerns about it.”

The survey finds positive consumer sentiment about “martech” (marketing technology) has jumped since the uptick in online buying and selling during the pandemic. Internet-connected smart speakers notched the biggest gains, up 30 points in favorability to 74%, from 44% in a similar 2019 study.

Views improved 16 points on average toward virtual reality (VR) headsets, augmented reality (AR) rigs, internet-connected appliances, artificially intelligent assistants, personalized ads, and micro-influencers, along with smart speakers. Positive feelings now outweigh negative ones toward all of them, compared to just two in 2019 (AR and VR).

The improvements were greatest among the college-educated, upper-income, and Gen Z (18-25), Millennial (26-39) and Gen X (40-54) consumers. However, gains in favorability toward smart speakers, AR, and VR have outpaced adoption, suggesting room for further growth in these at-home technologies.

Consumers are ambivalent about one novel form of martech: “dream-tech,” playing ads at bedtime to influence consumers’ dreams. Just 38% are favorable, 32% opposed, and 30% unsure.

Increased use of digital purchasing and payments has also made consumers more familiar with the benefits of marketing technology.

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Consumers now are much likelier to say they see the upsides of martech than in 2019 – by an average of 20 points per item. Gains are notable for statements about online shopping being easier (78% agreed), quicker (75%), better informed (75%), and more fun (73%)—clearly effects of pandemic-related online shopping.

However, concern over the downsides of martech are roughly as widespread as in 2019, signaling a continuing techlash. Large majorities of consumers worry martech use will mean consumers lose privacy (73%), feel under constant surveillance (76%), and let liars, hackers, and bots spread misinformation (77%). They also fear it promotes isolation and depression (68%).

On the key privacy issue of data collection, the techlash is being felt, too. The only types of collection that more than half of consumers accept are email address (66%), age (55%), and name (54%).

Collection of consumer locations is accepted by 42% and ethnicity by 40%. Other types of data collection were accepted by under three in ten: internet browsing history (29%), internet purchase history (26%), religion (25%), sexual orientation (25%), and party identification (24%).

Marketers largely agree on these items, the main exception being collecting consumer location, which 54% call acceptable.

Consumer and marketer views on consent for data use also are similar. Both emphasize consent for promotions, personalizing ads or products, or offering free information.

However, they disagree on the sensitive topic of sharing buyers’ information with other firms. Just 24% of marketers say consent should be required for this, while twice as many consumers do. Feeling is strong here: 71% of consumers are less likely to buy from firms that sell their data without their consent, and 51% say they would not sell their own data even if offered a price.

Consumers are also pushing back to defend their own privacy. Seven in ten either have refused cookies (tracking programs), installed ad blockers, deleted apps, or dropped social media accounts over privacy concerns. The most privacy sensitive are Gen Z and Millennials, who grew up with the internet.

Marketers are getting the message: they recognize that companies that respect customers’ privacy will benefit in the marketplace. Fully 85% say collecting less data from customers, requesting permission to use it, not selling it, or offering a price for it would be a competitive advantage.

Methodology: The 2021 Future of Marketing Survey involved online polls of 506 consumers and 411 marketers around the United States, conducted by Toluna and Charney Research in August 2021. The 2019 survey included 500 marketers, conducted by YouGov and Charney. Further installments of the 2021 survey will include corporate purpose, the future of B2B marketing, and post-Covid marketing.

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