Coined in Joseph Heller’s classic satirical novel of the same name, 'Catch-22' is a term that refers to a situation in which a person is trapped by completely contradictory goals or circumstances.

In Heller’s book, the only way for a pilot to escape his WWII flying mission is to request psychiatric evaluation due to mental instability, and be deemed insane.

However, awareness of his own insanity is considered proof of a rational mind, thus making it impossible to escape his mission, a total and complete Catch-22.

No doubt, many marketers are feeling stuck in this sort of paradoxical situation when it comes to the competing goals of consumer privacy and personalization.

According to a recent consumer survey, data privacy concern is at an all-time high, with 92% of US internet users worrying about their online privacy (TRUSTe).

At the same time, 73% of US consumers prefer to buy from brands that use their information to deliver more relevant shopping experiences (Accenture).

So, how are marketers supposed to quell this growing consumer aversion to sharing personal data, while still giving them the data-driven, personalized user experiences they demand?

This may seem like an impossible situation, but strategies and tools are emerging to help you overcome this Catch-22.

First party permission

Much of the concern around data privacy has been perpetuated by the use of third-party data techniques, which collect and sell consumer data around search history and browsing behaviors without consent, resulting in misguided insights and irrelevant messaging.

71% of consumers state that they are 'very concerned' about online companies selling or sharing information about them without their permission (ConsumerReports), causing more and more marketers to make the transition from traditional 3rd party retargeting to first-party identity data.

Because it comes directly from your customers via registration and on-site interactions, first-party data is not only more accurate than third-party insights, it is also completely permission-based.

Using transparent first-party collection techniques like social login, marketers can request access to specific, meaningful data points, as well as telling consumers how this data will be used to improve their user experiences.

More than half of consumers are willing to share their information with brands as long as it is for their benefit (Get Elastic).

Progressive Profiling

Another technique to strike a balance between privacy and personalization is to refrain from asking consumers for too much information up front.

Instead, focus on building individual consumer relationships, and start 'getting to know them' by requesting that they verify their identities and provide basic information only.

From there, you can apply tactics like progressive profiling, which allows your brand to collect consumer information incrementally over time as trust is built. 49% of consumers are receptive to having trusted brands track their data in return for personalization (Accenture).

Inject your site with plenty of opportunities for consumers to connect with your brand and tell you more about themselves.

For example, many brands give consumers options like sharing products or content on-site directly with their social networks, and request access to data points such as their favorite brands and current locations in return.

As you connect on a regular basis, consumers will feel more comfortable sharing their data, which can be used to personalize user experiences in ways that feel natural with the progression of your relationship.

Consumer identity management

To manage the growing volume of consumer identity data being created across channels, many businesses are putting a consumer identity and access management (cIAM) solution in place.

Long ago, companies recognized the importance of effectively managing employee identities, data and permissions to help organize and protect valuable business assets.

The rise of ecommerce, social networks, mobile and connected devices has created the need for businesses to develop an external identity management strategy, which is becoming a necessity for delivering both privacy and personalization.

When it comes to managing consumer identities and data, your business must adhere to an exhaustive and constantly evolving list of privacy policies created by lawmakers and third-party identity providers.

Compliance is becoming both increasingly difficult and important, with 76% of consumers more likely to look for privacy certifications and seals to address their privacy concerns.

The best cIAM solutions provide automatic, real-time updates to reflect various privacy policy and account changes. They also offer robust user controls for consumers to view and update the data they’re sharing and how it’s being used to inform their experiences.

While striking a balance between privacy and personalization can be delicate, the growth of first-party data and consumer identity management practices has made this challenge far from a Catch-22.


Published 23 July, 2014 by Rachel Serpa

Rachel Serpa is Content Marketing Manager at Gigya and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)


Josh Light

Timely article. I was debating this problem with an experienced marketing friend of mine last weekend. My concern was the unauthorized collection of data...his point was if you stopped this process you'd hurt our economy because it's now so ingrained within marketing departments. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

about 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

First party data is unaffected by the likes of "do not track", which is an enormous benefit as the Web attracts ever more legislation. It's the main reason why we decided to avoid e.g. third party cookies. Good article.

about 4 years ago


Christy D

This is indeed a Catch 22, Rachel. But a serious concern that can cripple marketing companies who cannot find that proper balance between retaining consumer privacy, and offering them secured services they desire. We are not only marketer's, but consumers as well. Approach privacy and personalization from your own perspective, if you are unsure how to approach it as a marketer.

about 4 years ago



What a great ideas.
Good job my friend; keep up the good work

about 4 years ago



Hi Rachael,
Great innovative ideas which are very informative, thanks for sharing a very good article .Hope many more to come from you. Good Luck.

With Best Wishes,

almost 4 years ago

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