7 mins read

Online data is the new stalker


Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

This weekend I went to meet a friend who just came back from her vacation in Goa, India. She told me all the great things about it and I thought to myself — wow, this sounds incredible, I would love to go there one day. Later on, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and came across an ad on my feed from AirAsia that says “ Goa vacation: discount flights to India”.

Even as a digital marketer, I still get creeped out despite knowing that all this happens. With the imminent trend of smart data, this creepy coincidence really isn’t a coincidence after all.

Something you clicked on once, could hold on to you for eternity. Does that mean that we’re all personally victimized by online ads?

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

While some people joke around about being monitored, there are plenty of examples of how personalized marketing can go wrong. Research shows that 94% of marketers believe that personalization is critical to their current future success (Source: Econsultancy.) However, 92% of all US internet users have expressed concerns about their online privacy data. (Source: TrustArc) So what does this mean? It means that marketers are walking a very thin line between delivering individualized experiences and not invading the privacy of those users. And consumers are wondering, how much information and data about me is out there and how is it being used? In order to bridge the gap between personalized marketing and the privacy paradox, we need to talk about how and why data is collected and how it’s being spread.

How your data is being collected

Let’s talk about how data is collected. Your data is collected through multiple actions online. These actions include; opting-in to online newsletters, signing-in to social media platforms, location check-ins, to even just visiting a regular website. If you’ve done some of the stuff that’s mentioned above, there’s a good chance that you’re being tracked down by your IP address. This data is gathered and saved into a data collection system marked down as “you”. So when marketers generate a list to target specific campaigns, we don’t see names or addresses or your faces, it’s just a list of IP addresses.

Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels

Why is your data being collected?

We can continue down the path of all the technicalities and how data is collected, but what’s more important is how it’s being used and why.

The first reason is obvious — it makes money. As marketers, we want cool ideas and flashy campaigns — sure. When it comes down to it, the best marketing campaigns are the ones that show ROI and personalized content does just that. The second reason and a more important reason is that we want to give you a better user experience. And that means providing the most relevant path for why you are visiting the site.

Around two-thirds of consumers prefer to buy from brands that deliver relevant ads and customized shopping experiences. (Source: Adlucent) And 49% said that they would approach something they initially didn’t intend to buy because of personalization. (Source: Acquireconvert) This shows that consumers are receptive to personalized experiences if it’s done correctly. So when marketers see these statistics, they see a gap that needs to be filled.

While utilizing the user’s data started as a cool and customized experience, it has started raising some red flags among consumers. Basically, it started to creep people out. We live in a world where we expect brands to understand and cater to what we want, but at the same time, we demand transparency and privacy.

Examples of data usage as a double-edged sword

In 2014, data collection helped Twitter detect an earthquake in Napa, California through social listening. They were monitoring and collecting keywords associated with earthquakes which in turn gave them the ability to help save more lives.

Later in 2016, Cambridge Analytica was able to obtain information from 87 million Facebook users. That information was then used to influence the 2016 US presidential elections among other political campaigns around the world.

While many companies rely on data gathering for their online campaigns, they also need to keep in mind the ethical component of the user’s personal information.

Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

While creative empathy is the missing ingredient to building more connections and gaining more conversions, you should always ask yourself: Would I want this to be personalized to me?

Stay woke on your online preferences

Data is not something to be scared of. Marketers are not listening to all your phone calls or peeking through your camera screens (but maybe your government is), but we all need to be aware of just how our data is being spread. And even if we’re not all marketers, we are all consumers at some point.

Advice: control your online preferences, take the time to read privacy policies, and think twice when sharing your information online. Trust your instincts because if it doesn’t look right — it probably isn’t.

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