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M&E Journal: Profits and Privacy: The Trust Paradox

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By Tiran Dagan, Chief Digital Officer for Comms, Media, Publishing and Marketing, Cognizant Digital Business’s M&E Practice –

With privacy paramount, media companies face an uneasy task: Consumers’ love of personalized products and services means collecting and analyzing as much data as possible, and then working just as hard to protect it.

Or does it? Our research into young consumers between 15- and 22-years old turned up a surprising finding: Sixty- three percent describe themselves as neutral or unconcerned about online information being used against them. Amid the debates on privacy in social, business and legislative circles, Generation Z’s disinterest gives us pause.

It may reflect the demographic’s youth and unfamiliarity with the personal toll of data breaches. Or it may portend a permanent trend: Having grown up in an environment of sharing data, it’s possible the youngest consumers cast an eye toward the benefits of personalization and convenience and find they outweigh the potential downside.

We won’t know the answer until they assert themselves one way or another in the marketplace. In the meantime, we still need to grow our businesses.

Contextual privacy provides a path forward. When we’re on social media, we know data is being collected on, say, the photos we post and the people we friend. But what about more complex psychographic analysis of variables such as attitudes, lifestyle and inferences about who we are? That deeper exposure of our data is where contextual privacy comes in: It mandates that the use of data must be mutually agreed upon by both parties in context to the way it was gathered.

For media companies, contextual privacy requires clarity and transparency on several fronts. In addition to identifying the customer data they collect, organizations need to be open regarding whether and how they merge it with data they purchase.

For example, do they combine transactional or viewing history with external credit-card data to infer more about customer preferences? That’s information consumers need to know. Openness also applies to the sharing and sale of customer data to third parties. If you do it, disclose it.

Here’s how media companies can stay pragmatic about privacy without eroding the experiences that customers demand.

Balance how you leverage consumers’ data. As consumers’ tastes shift and new options flood the marketplace, leakage of revenue can happen fast. The best way to capture leaking dollars is to be smart about data: Stay vigilant about providing value and engaging consumers amid a crowded marketplace and short attention spans. Equally important, be pragmatic and transparent about how you use it: A photo-sharing site’s marketing partners shouldn’t include pharmaceutical companies that pitch birth control to users posting images of romantic getaways.

Develop a single view of the customer that lets you scale. Scattered customer data isn’t just holding your company back when it comes to providing targeted content for subscribers. It also limits your company’s potential as a brand partner. As a media company, you’re managing an audience across two dimensions: content viewers and consumers. Creating a single customer view — that is, aggregating customer data — not only extends your organization’s understanding of its own viewers, but it also enables your brands to become more valuable as marketing partners.

With a greater understanding of the customer, the company can offer solutions that integrate television and digital advertising, email campaigns, social media outreach. The role of the media company evolves to managing audiences for brand marketers.

Think creatively about data governance. The beauty of data is its flexibility. (Some might say its curse.) How is your company prepared to safeguard this valuable asset? Small-print terms and conditions cover you legally. But now that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has codified the “right to be forgotten,” European Union marketers are grappling with how to manage consumers’ requests to remove their personally identifiable information from databases. California’s privacy act is set to take effect next January. Facebook says it’s contemplating its role as a data fiduciary.

The next question is how innovative can your organization be regarding its role as a custodian of data? What governance do you have in place across your business to avert the next publicity disaster?

Contextual privacy is about being pragmatic and striking a balance that protects customers and profits. It’s also about generational context — and casting an eye towards the future: As we create regulations and policies, we’re doing so for younger generations like Generation Z that may view issues very differently from the way we do.

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