Balancing Customization, Personalization, and Privacy: Where Are We?

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About twenty people braved some wildly rainy Atlanta weather on November 30 for a fantastic meal at Bacchanalia, and a fascinating conversation about the intersection between customization and privacy, at the latest IAB Innovators Roundtable Dinner (IRD).


Sponsored by Quova, this IRD focused the dinner discussion on geotargeting, and how location and other consumer data lead to better advertising campaigns and happier customers—assuming they’re done correctly. Attendees included folks from 22 Squared, BBDO, Nurun, DS Waters, Home Depot, ING, Coke, and of course Quova and the IAB.

I found it very interesting how broadly attendees perceive the advantages to marketers of geolocation in online advertising. One discussion focused on geo-targeting’s benefits in terms of engagement and prospecting. Another centered primarily on the strategic value of this kind of capability, in terms of assessing competitiveness and growth. And the third conversation focused mainly on the benefits from delivering more relevant messages to consumers.

Home Depot discussed a simple but effective way that they’ve used geotargeting: in their “Spring Black Friday” campaign, they used location data to determine whether to feature, say, a plant versus a snow shovel in the display ads they ran. That gets at another point that I think is sometimes overlooked when discussing location-based targeting, particularly in mobile: often I feel like it’s presented as an all-or nothing thing, like you either target based on someone’s exact latitude and longitude, or you don’t use it at all. However, far less granular location data, to a ZIP code, a city or even sometimes a state or region can also unlock value for an advertiser and relevance for a consumer.

I heard mixed things on the topic of consumer privacy—one perspective at dinner held that privacy concerns are very much a factor of the older segment of the audience; younger consumers generally embrace the relevance that targeting can deliver, and so the whole question of privacy will diminish over time. On the other hand, another view holds that eventually there will be some kind of opt-in requirement (this was the week that the FTC issued its new recommendation on targeting), since privacy regulation may be the only thing a divided Congress might actually accomplish.

One perceptive comment was that customers don’t know what marketers know or don’t know, and so the industry needs to help them understand that. Of course, that’s something the IAB is working on.

If I had to summarize all the conversations, the consensus advice coming out of this dinner is that geotargeting can be large win-win for marketers and consumers, but it has to be done respectfully and with the right tone. Marketers and agencies need to beware of using targeting simply because they can, and focus on opportunities where it really improves the message. And targeting that hits a consumer over the head with “I know you’re in DOWNTOWN ATLANTA GEORGIA!” is not going to be as welcome, or as effective, as targeting that uses that same piece of data more subtly, to enhance the value of the message.

Joe Laszlo is Director of Research for the IAB