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It's becoming harder and harder to persuade customers to give us their personal data. Are they more worried about privacy and security post-Snowden?

Are they wary that we marketers will relentlessly spam them once we have their details? Do they find it too difficult to do the data entry on the mobile devices they are increasingly using?

According to recent TRUSTe research 60% of people say they are more concerned about security now than they were a year ago.

It turns out that businesses sharing personal information with other companies (60%) and tracking online behaviour to show targeted ads and content (54%) were the two largest causes of increased online privacy concerns.

And yet there is also plenty of research to show that consumers appreciate personalisation and customisation. According to Adobe’s 'State of Online Advertising' last year, 88% of those surveyed in the EU were neutral or positive about customisation; this figure rose to 94% for the US.

So we face a tough challenge as marketers, as customers seemingly want the benefits of customisation but without giving up any personal data...

The challenge for marketers

In the real world a good salesperson is able to customise the way they approach and interact with a customer based on a whole number of contextual variables that betray no personal data and do not appear ‘creepy’ to the customer.

How can we do this in digital marketing? How can we use context, rather than personal data, to deliver better digital experiences to our customers without it being seen as invasive of their privacy?

There are a number of areas where context is increasingly being used in this way: devices, location, time, social insights, mode of interaction and user behaviour.

As ever Google is pioneering in a lot of these areas. As search becomes more conversational the context of our previous searches are used to enhance current results.

Search for 'what time is it in New York?' in the Google mobile app, and then for 'what about Seattle?', and the results will interpret that you are asking about the time in Seattle even though you did not specify it in your search.

(Taken from Will Critchlow's presentation at Econsultancy's FODM13)

Google’s Enhanced Campaigns allow marketers to layer greater context, including location and time of day, over their search marketing.

Whilst it also uses personal data, Google Now is perhaps the most sophisticated current example of using contextual data to deliver ever more relevant, even predictive and anticipatory, information.

Using data to enhance the user’s experience without being 'creepy'

Many of us will be focusing on making our digital experiences ‘responsive’ this year. That is, they adapt to the user’s device.

But next we should also look at the context of use, such as:

  • What time of day is it?
  • Is it the weekend?
  • What bandwidth is available?
  • Is the user stationary or moving?
  • Do we think the user is at home or at work?
  • Is the user interacting via voice or touch?
  • Is the user influential in social media?
  • What are the user’s interests?

It is possible to know all these things without actually knowing who the person is. And I believe we can use this data to enhance the user’s experience without it feeling invasive or creepy.

Indeed this kind of contextual data is already being applied. WeatherFIT is a service which customises AdWords adverts based on real-time localised climatic conditions.

La Redoute’s 'Le Billboard Météo' does the same thing for billboards. Qubit’s analytics technology can identify whether a user is a ‘nervous buyer’ from click patterns and you can serve more reassuring messaging accordingly.

When agency Essence worked on a campaign for Google to show how Google Plus could connect families who were apart over Christmas it used IP-targeting (i.e. location) to identify users who were visiting UK news sites and portals from overseas i.e. people who were likely spending time away from their home and families.

As the ‘internet of things’ mushrooms we may also have access to further contextual information: what things a user owns, how old they are, whether they are working or not; how fit the user is, how well they sleep, what their normal commute to work is like. 

Sounds creepy? Perhaps, but it would likely be anonymous unless the customer wished it otherwise.

Surely it is not invasive for a brand to know about my circumstances, the context of my interaction, what is happening in the world right now, all to deliver a better experience, but still not knowing actually who I am?

Is this not what happens every day when we interact with people we don’t know personally? 

Ashley Friedlein

Published 25 February, 2014 by Ashley Friedlein @ Econsultancy

Ashley Friedlein is Founder of Econsultancy and President of Centaur Marketing. Follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

Ben Austin

Ben Austin, CEO at Absolute Digital Media

Interesting concept that consumers want the best of both worlds- personalisation without targeted ads. If people feel unsettled/irritated by the way marketers are increasingly using personal data it will be interesting to see the impact wearable technology has on this as it progresses through to the mainstream.

From watches/ glasses/ apps that do everything from monitor your heart rate or the amount of sleep you get, to devices with microphones that can detect your whereabouts, it doesn't get much more personal than that!

over 2 years ago


Rob Machin

Interesting article. All this 'anonymous' data won't be anonymous once the organisation gets the relevant user to register with them (or even if it attempts to do so) if there is the potential to link the data up to the user profile - which is what most organisations ultimately want to do.

So, in line with a lot of the other great blogs on econsultancy, the aim has to be to gather and use this information transparently - with the specifics popped in a privacy policy, the benefits 'sold' to the user, and (at least where the data is being collected via an iOS mobile app) the user is given the option to control what is collected.

Only then will the organisation be able to say it is not being 'creepy'!

over 2 years ago

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