Council Post: Marketing In The New Era Of Data Privacy

Grant McDougall is the CEO and Co-Founder of BlueOcean, an AI brand strategy platform that helps companies outmaneuver the competition.

When lockdowns swept across the globe as the Covid-19 pandemic spread, a massive boom in online shopping ensued as customers scrambled to buy their favorite products while staying safe. This tidal wave of e-commerce, a 44% increase from 2019 to 2020, created a mountain of data for marketers to leverage for future campaigns and target consumers.

Against this backdrop, other tectonic shifts in the marketing landscape make it increasingly difficult to leverage that data. First, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act and other regional regulations limit how companies can leverage and move consumer data around the world. 

Meanwhile, mobile marketing kingmaker Apple is enacting ever more restrictive privacy updates to its mobile operating system. Users of iOS 14.5 have to deliberately opt in to sharing their unique Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) with apps. This kind of technology is foundational to digital marketing and the delivery of highly personalized ads. If users choose to opt out, it will limit the way users are tracked and reached with marketing messages, which will significantly dilute the effectiveness of digital marketing. As you can imagine, Facebook is somewhat concerned about its $84 billion a year ad revenue that could be significantly affected by Apple’s move. 

The final nail in the coffin is the death of the cookie. Google plans to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. So what do marketers do now with their highly tuned growth engines built on consumers’ data, cookies and last-click attribution?


Over the past 20 years, I have worked for global brands building technologies and products to unify their understanding of users so that marketers can serve customers in a more personalized and precise manner to increase conversions, lower costs and provide more value. I have seen firsthand that consumers’ concerns about marketers and companies knowing too much about them have been rising.

As we lose more of the ability to market to the individual, we will have to focus more on what our brands stand for and then apply modern market principles to drive growth. Here is my advice on how to do that:

• Get a clear grasp on what your brand stands for — its principles — and its focus so that you can clearly align your actions to them.

• Get comfortable with using identity-based marketing techniques that are transparent and privacy compliant. 

• Create impactful content and distribute it to audience-aligned destinations. I suspect we will see a significant increase in branded content in places like the New York Times, Netflix and anywhere you can collect a mass audience.

• New metrics are likely going to be required to master a less precise landscape. Integrated brand metrics that weave together advertising, content effectiveness, positioning, market performance and satisfaction will be critical in fine-tuning your brand and future-proofing it.

• Build frequency and continuous communication into your marketing plan; retrain yourself and your team to approach media differently.

• Be more creative. Use data as inspiration, but couple it with human insight to make an impact.

The only constant in marketing is change. Technology has always brought new challenges and new opportunities, and that will continue to be the case. Successful marketers are not the ones who complain the loudest; they are usually the ones who can adapt the quickest. We are seeing seismic shifts that will likely have a significant impact on how marketers do their jobs, but the fundamental truth of marketing remains the same: Deliver a relevant message to the user, where they are and when they need to hear it, and success can be yours.

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