Consumers are vocal about how brands use their data. To stand out in a good way, marketers and advertisers need to stop focusing on the information they can glean from customer data and build campaigns that capitalize on consumer expectations.
Most of the current outcry against misuse and abuse of private user data centers on mobile. However, a recent report by The Washington Post reveals that desktop browsers also pose significant vulnerabilities for data security.
Investigating “the secret life of our data,” tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler writes that he and an independent security researcher recently identified “as many as 4 million people [who] have been leaking personal and corporate secrets through Chrome and Firefox.” These users unknowingly revealed their private data – from tax returns to flight check-ins to medical information – by enabling specific web browser extensions. The developers of these extensions gathered user data, then sold it online.
Bottom line: Users who thought they might be safer on desktop than on mobile face the same pitfalls they do on their smartphones. Yes, extensions might make browsing the internet more convenient, but users are starting to get savvy to the price they pay for that convenience.
Getting ethical with data usage
As users eschew apps, extensions, and other programs that compromise their privacy, all companies doing business online need to be wary of building their marketing – let alone their business model – on the gathering and exploitation of user data. In the B2B space, this means using extreme scrutiny when you evaluate the Marketing “opportunity” presented by data mining firms.
This is the era of GDPR. Companies are seriously revisiting their online privacy policies for the first time in years, if not decades. Now is not the time to start Marketing your business by paying for extremely private information that extension and app developers gained through questionable, possibly unscrupulous means.
The column in The Washington Post reveals that many browser extension developers rely on a deceptively simple “opt-in” to start gathering user data. This does not meet the principle of transparency central to the GDPR: “The principle of transparency requires that any information addressed to the public or to the data subject be concise, easily accessible and easy to understand, and that clear and plain language … be used.”
As consumers develop a better understanding of how to protect their online privacy – and as more and more reports emerge of apps and extensions that put users’ security at risk – online businesses need to find a better way to market themselves to prospective customers. Fundamentally, this means using data responsibly and intelligently.
Personalize, don’t individualize, for better ads
In some cases, the type of data sold by desktop extension and mobile app developers is about as specific to the individual user as you can get (uncomfortably so). Having this data may help you develop ads individualized to these specific users and extrapolate ways to engage consumers who share their buying habits, but a campaign like this is limited in scope. Furthermore, multiple research studies show just how to put off consumers are by over-personalization of ads.
Businesses that develop ad campaigns around narrowly targeted data don’t just risk running afoul of a hot-button issue. They also undercut the effectiveness of their own advertising efforts – particularly if this is their primary Marketing strategy. The alternative is to design and execute ad campaigns that don’t rely on sensitive user information but on data-driven expectations.
Users don’t reject all online ads. Great campaigns connect them with the products and services they want, provided by the businesses that best align with their preferences and goals. Brands that successfully thread the needle by delivering personalized ads that get clicks and conversions don’t simply make a lucky guess. They too are using data; the key difference is discretion.
Personalized ad experiences are compatible with a privacy-focused world
Even if they don’t download browser extensions or refuse to grant access to certain apps on their phones, all online users leave a data footprint. Google has entire suites of tools dedicated to gathering these data and, in many cases, facilitating Business and Advertising operations.
Smart marketers use data from Google and other platforms not to target individual users but to draw broader conclusions about how specific audiences look for products, services, and brands, then provide these users the push to engage with a specific provider.
This push may be inspired by demographics, location, and other characteristics, but it doesn’t feel like a pushy Salesman trying to engage you in an overly personal conversation. Rather, a thoughtfully targeted and personalized ad is more akin to the helpful Salesperson on the floor of your favorite store: helpful, approachable, and prepared to direct your attention based on the input you provide.
Many desktop browser extensions and mobile apps gather data. Not all developers sell the data they collect, but the ones who do are inviting intensive scrutiny on their business.
If your brand buys data to fuel Advertising and Marketing campaigns, you are likely to see diminishing returns, if not backlash from the users you target. Be mindful of how sensitive today’s consumers are to how tech companies handle their data. Your campaign can be much more engaging with a broad strategy that focuses on serving prospective customers, rather than ingratiating your brand with too much specific information.