Location, Personalization & Privacy — Is There a ‘Middle Way?’

Personalization has been a buzzword for several years, but one hears it even more these days. It can mean different things in different contexts.

In the most sophisticated ad or marketing scenarios, personalization is driven by lots of data, including location history. In other words, my real-world behavior and visitation history informs the audience segment I’m bucketed in and thus the content, ads or offers I see. In a “deterministic” scenario the content I’m exposed to is directly tied to CRM data and my offline behavior — e.g., I was in a retail store and now I’m seeing ads for that store online or in email.

Consumers want personalization according to numerous surveys. Consumers also don’t want to be “creeped out” by invasive tracking. Therein lies the challenge; and at the center of it all is the concept of trust. Trust will make consumers more willing to share their data, but trust is earned and an expression of numerous factors.

Here are some examples of the personalization that consumers are reportedly asking for (according to McKinsey research):

  • Recommendations I wouldn’t have thought of
  • Suggestions when I’m in shopping mode
  • Things I want to know but “might not be keeping track of”
  • Know me no matter where I interact with [the brand]
  • Share value in a way that’s meaningful to the individual

Arguably these require deterministic personalization: knowledge of the specific individual and his/her individual interests and history. But some of these things can be accomplished with sophisticated location intelligence without deterministic identification — and presumably in a privacy compliant way.

How can brands and marketers bring the wealth of available data (including location) to bear on consumer interactions without being creepy? McKinsey has some recommendations:

  • Market with empathy: To truly build empathy for customers, companies must understand their diverse attitudes, shopping occasions, and need states and build them into an attitudinal segmentation. Such attitudinal segmentation then needs to be layered onto the customer database in order for companies to be able to act on it to deliver on relevant and personalized messaging.
  • Listening to customers: McKinsey also says that companies doing personalized marketing need to listen carefully to customers and gauge their reactions. Look at social media sentiment, look at clicks, opens and other actions to determine whether the personalization efforts are working or alienating customers.

I spoke at a marketing conference recently about local and location data trends. I asked brand marketers in the room what their feelings were about location history tracking and resulting behavioral segmentation. A majority were uneasy about it, based on a show of hands. They were also skeptical about assurances of privacy.

There’s also growing concern and skepticism among the general public. Indeed, after a string of data scandals and related critical press coverage, privacy is now the hottest of hot-button issues in technology.

At The Place Conference on September 13 in New York, we’ll have a vigorous discussion about location and privacy together with tactical recommendations for the future:

Location & Privacy: The Way Forward

Will the CCPA become “America’s GDPR”? Or will it be preempted by federal regulation? What’s the best approach for the industry given that self-regulation hasn’t worked? The panel will debate the current, very charged climate surrounding privacy and location data. What’s likely to happen? What should happen? Is there a “middle way” that serves both consumers and marketers?

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