Privacy, Schmivacy!

Other than “How about cookie deletion?” the second biggest question that I have received in the past year when discussing the topic of online-offline integration is the question about privacy.

  • Will it be OK with privacy regulations if I integrate click data from web analytics with customer data in order to improve the relevance of my marketing communications?
  • More importantly, will it be OK with web site visitors’ expectations?

The regulations side is usually a short answer for me. Mind you, the regulations seem rather cumbersome to read. But the bottom-line boils down to:

  • Have a clear privacy policy on the site
  • Make it as easy to opt-out as possible, ideally a single click
  • Extra credit, if in addition to opt-out you allow the individual to set their own preferences of how they’d like to be contacted and on what topics
  • In countries where it is required, work with opt-in

To me, the bigger question seems about site visitors’ expectations.

It may seem we are wearier of being tracked than ever. There is always a big outcry when Facebook et al announce a move towards ad targeting.

But in reality, we are much more public with our lives than ever. especially in our social networks. See this article for instance.

So what is it about this privacy thing that we really want?

The following examples help me.

Privacy in a store

We hate walking into a small store if the sales person is too much in our face and doesn’t let us browse the items on our own. Maybe we fear getting pressured into buying something before we are ready. Heck, we may well be browsing for entertainment and not thinking of buying anything at the moment. And the shop keeper that is in our face makes us feel bad about ourselves.

But we also hate being in a big box retail store and not being able to find someone to answer our questions when we are ready to ask them.

Really, we want the person to be right there — magically — just when we need their help but not before. And we love it if they understand us so well that they can recommend just what we will benefit from buying.

Privacy in a restaurant

We hate when the waiter is too much in our face, especially after we are done with the meal. Maybe we fear pressured in vacating the table for the next guests.

Just as much we hate it when the waiter is nowhere to be found when we need the check or want to order something (else).

The waiter should just — magically — refill the glasses as soon as they are empty. They need to be right there with the desert menu and our check just when we want it.

Magic???

How does it work in those stores and restaurants that do this well? Is it magic?

No magic.

The perfect shop keeper and waiter are super observant. They put a web analytics tool to shame when it comes to tracking our behavior.

But they aren’t in our face about it.

And they don’t pressure us into buying something or ordering an appetizer along with the expensive main course.

They are at our service.

And yet they still do bring us the best cross-sales offer at the best time.

Marketing so relevant that it feels like a service

I still cringe when I hear that marketing should be so relevant that it feels like a service. At first glance it seems a cheesy thing to say. It seems a utopian dream of techies like me.

But wait.

How about all those educational webinars on the web that I love to attend and learn from?

Guess what! The people doing them (e.g. me, myself) aren’t altruistic at all. Their purpose is purely marketing. They cost a ton of money, by the way. Yet, it is a service and doesn’t feel like marketing at all unless the speaker is too salesy.

There are other examples too:

  • How about book recommendations on Amazon
  • Movie recommendations on Netflix?

They tend to be quite relevant and not at all in your face. Ignore them easily if you want.

In fact, haven’t you come to expect and demand that any product page on a retailer’s web site will contain information on accessories that go with the item?

So, it can be done

These examples prove that marketing, in the ideal cases, can:

  1. feel like a service
  2. be not in your face and not pushy

My take away is that the combination of click and customer data, if used the right way, can absolutely enable service oriented marketing. But if you abuse it for span, you will cause all of us marketers to look bad and to lose out.
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(This post is part of a series on the state of multichannel metrics today, one year after the book came out.)

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