New data and privacy legislation is helping to protect and give consumers what they want: less irrelevant marketing junk. However, with less access to online behaviours and little understanding of offline personas, it is becoming more difficult for brands to understand their consumer needs. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has reported that 57% of consumers feel that they do not trust organisations to use their data responsibly. This is creating a huge challenge for marketers that want to engage with their consumers, and it also means that consumers will miss out in the future. In order for brands to be able to communicate relevant and personalised content, a middle ground needs to be met.

The consumer’s data angst

The countless surveys and reports from brands and research groups have long been focusing their efforts on deciphering the true feelings of consumers regarding their personal data. How do they feel about their personal data being captured? Are they concerned about who has access to it? Do they feel they are in control of their data? These are all the clichéd questions posed on a regular basis that consumers so often struggle to answer with much conviction.

For example, whilst some are comfortable with the notion of their data being captured by brands and retailers, they are also concerned about who has access to it. A recent study reported that three months on from the introduction of GDPR, 65% of consumers still believe that it’s made no difference at all, with a further 8% suggesting that things have actually become worse. By contrast, others feel reluctant to share their data with brands but would not mind receiving personalised content that caters to their needs and desires. This discrepancy makes the job of marketers that much more complicated. While many are looking to earn the trust by protecting consumer data, they must also ensure they are respecting the consumer’s individual privacy, all while looking at ways to monetise the data they capture. It’s a complex situation to navigate.

The introduction of GDPR should be welcomed, as it means that consumers have greater protection for their personal data, but brands also need to adapt. This regulation makes consumer trust all the more important to businesses. If consumers don’t trust a company to protect their sensitive data and use it appropriately, then they will be less likely to give brands access to it. Without trust and without access to that data, brands face an impossible task of marketing to their consumer’s needs. This means that in today’s world, brands need to be open and honest about how they use consumer data, and they need to look to acquire that data in an ethical way.

Using smartphone data as a safer way to achieve consumer loyalty

There are numerous methods for capturing consumer data in a responsible and GDPR-compliant way, all with different processes and results. However, the undisputed data magnet of this day and age is the smartphone. For many of us, we store our whole lives on our smartphones, from pictures of our favourite things to those all-important holiday arrangements, all within that smart rectangular technological device. Businesses are all too aware of the value of data and how it can unlock new revenue streams, and both brands and retailers understand the importance of capturing the consumer’s attention via their smartphone.

The tricky thing is that most of that data is currently limited to online behaviour only. One of the latest innovations in data capturing however, is vision computing. A technological method that enables computers to read and gain a high-level understanding of a consumer’s offline persona through digital images. This new technological development in picture data means that businesses, such as retailers and brands, can gain insights that were previously unattainable and send more personalised offers to their consumers.

The photos we take, predicted to be some 1.3 trillion annually, provide more insight about our daily lives and habits than any other data imaginable. Being able to analyse consumer images will help to extract key information such as age range, relationships status, if they are a home-owner, or if they are renting and whether they have children or not. Of course, consumers must first give their consent for brands to have access to this information. Once they do, AI and deep learning technology can read that photo data, which could also be GPS data, accelerometer data or more, without ever taking the data off the phone. None of this data is ever seen by the brand or uploaded to a cloud server either. Instead, all the brand receives is a series of simple probabilities that indicate the persona of a consumer, such as dog owner or parent.

This cutting-edge on-device processing of data is one of the most secure forms of analysis. It is comparatively unlikely that a hacker will seek to target individual devices for information, as opposed to hacking the vast amounts of data online in cloud servers. Currently however, many brands have drunk the cloud computing cool aid and tend to store consumer data on servers which are accessible for various functions, but the process of uploading data to the cloud is in itself a risk. On-device data storage offers access to online and offline consumer data and at the same time offers protection for consumer’s data. The future of safe data storage is within the palm of our hands on our mobile phones and brands ought to know this.

All of which begs the question: if brands can better target their consumers with personalised information, based on the data on their smartphones, what’s stopping them? There is an ethical and more efficient way for brands to engage with their consumers. Smartphone data is a valuable resource that can unlock many revenue streams but only if brands are accessing it, protecting it and utilising it appropriately. If they do that, the possibility of building loyalty and maximising ROI will be tremendous.

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