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For decades marketers have addressed audiences from the top down.

Starting with the UK population the tried and tested approach has been to dice and slice down using available criteria to find a group of consumers who more closely represent the target audience. It’s crude, and there’s a degree of wastage, but if it’s about who sees a press ad, a 48 sheet poster or a TV ad it doesn’t really matter that the targeting is a little blurry; some budget may be wasted but the public are not inconvenienced, worried or upset. Nor does it matter if the research driving the audience selection is 12 months out of date. Demography rarely changes that fast.

However, data driven channels have always taken a different view. The interruptive and personal nature of one-to-one marketing has always demanded more caution. Some channels, like mail, come with an associated high unit cost and therefore suppression has a distinct economic value in addition to the non-commercial ones. At the heart of this approach was a close attention to what was working and what wasn’t.

If we spool forward 10 years or more to our current digitally enabled world we find that consumers are getting an increasing volume of personally targeted communications. Some actually use personal information and some use data that, whilst not driven by “personal data” in the legal sense, makes the communication feel deeply personal being based, as they are, on individual actions and behaviours. The use of retargeting based on very slender knowledge is the most obvious example.

It’s also, anecdotally, the greatest source of irritation in digital marketing. Most readers of this report will be well aware that the retargeting of ads does not use legally personal data but consumers feel that it is personal. Perhaps therefore it should be used with all the cautions traditionally reserved for direct channels. After all, it is what the consumer thinks that matters to every brand, nothing else.

And here comes one of the key consumer pressures. This sort of marketing activity, like most digital media, is addressed with the “audience down” methodology used for posters, TV and press. The consumer is largely missing from this strategy, except for being identified as an “audience”. And that’s where the crunch comes.

Modern data driven marketing is using the consumer’s data but, in many digital executions, without the consumer at the heart. This manifests itself most clearly in the world of the Data Management Platform (DMP), a repository for behavioural data, in many cases enhanced with anonymised third-party variables.

Some of these may be geographical and environmental (enabling ads, for example, to automatically respond to forecast changes in the weather) but many more are based upon attributes brought in via much more personal data sets in the way of traditional lifestyle data. It is the decay applied to these variables that is clearly the challenge for marketers. Whilst up-to-date weather data will, by the nature of its intended use, be of the moment and correct the same cannot be said for all variables. Some data has a very definite lifespan and consents for usage sit very much in this territory. Across the data market as consumers get more used to data that is up to date, correct and timely, their tolerance with aging data reduces. Data users need to be ahead of consumer attitudes to consent. This includes the rate at which, in the consumer’s mind, a consent decays. If the consumer can’t remember the consent, it’s probably not of much value.

Get this right and data can continue to be used to drive strong and valued consumer relationships across acquisition and retention marketing. Get it wrong and your brand will alienate those same consumers and regulators will start to lift the cover on your practices and challenge your approach to marketing.



Charles Ping