Taking an Ethical Approach to Audience Creation

Taking an Ethical Approach to Audience Creation

By Nick Pinks, CEO, Covatic

Every day, an endless amount of personal data is traded for the purposes of advertising. The global datasphere itself has grown to unfathomable proportions: by 2025, it is predicted to reach 181 zettabytes. However, while the amount of data available has been swiftly increasing since the internet’s inception, laws have been comparatively slow at keeping pace with technology.

The year 2018 saw this change: not only did the Cambridge Analytica scandal draw global attention to data privacy, but the implementation of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations set the scene for a host of legislative changes to come, including the United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US.

At the current rate, it’s estimated that 75% of the global population will be protected by data privacy laws by 2024. But this shift towards a more privacy-first paradigm has also powered the development of a range of new technologies protecting users from invasive tracking practices, including browsers such as Brave, extensions for Chrome, search engines such as DuckDuckGo, and Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework.

These developments have  made access to data much more complicated – and yet, the industry’s attitude remains relatively unchanged: data remains the key to understanding and responding to consumer needs. This reliance is not baseless; according to one report, the majority (62%) of consumers do expect personalised experiences – yet only 40% trust brands to protect and process their data responsibly.

Moving away from user IDs and towards quality insights

The truth is, while the issues surrounding user IDs are valid – and demand a solution – data analytics and insights inform decision-making, help optimise operations, and steer business growth. But when it comes to owning individual user-level data, there is room for a different approach.

With both consumers and organisations more tuned in to data protection and privacy, brands, agencies, and publishers are working towards cookie-free solutions that promise the same level of granular insights. They are looking for quality data that enables large reach and relevant targeting.

Traditionally, industry players look for data touchpoints across platforms and channels, and connect this information to a certain person or group of individuals. But this emphasis on identification doesn’t actually enhance targeting or make advertising more effective – it only puts a name to the activity.

Personalisation – getting the right ad to the relevant target audience – does not have to come at the expense of identity. Instead, the focus needs to shift away from private data ownership and towards quality data access. In other words, companies do not need to possess personally identifiable information (PII) – all they need is access to the insights that matter.

Giving users control over their data

Our devices are windows into our worlds – so why not harness this information in a way that serves both companies and users at the same time? What if companies could benefit from user insights without this data leaving consumer pockets?

Users access the Internet on a variety of different devices and platforms looking for content they like – whether that be their favourite website or publisher, streaming service, radio show, or weekly podcast. On-device processing restricts all data handling to devices themselves rather than communicating potentially sensitive information to the cloud or any external server.  Tapping into this method  promises insights and privacy simultaneously, and it’s an option Big Tech is already exploring.

For those outside of these walled gardens, this is a privacy-by-design solution worthy of consideration: combining website or app activity with other device and sensor data generates real-time, granular insights without the use of IDs, cookies, or even DMPs.

Contextual segmentation for premium environments

Brands want to create the right kind of content for their audiences, whether this is a visual image next to text or an audio ad delivered via a smart speaker – their goal is to deliver what their consumers want.

In the post-cookie era, contextual targeting – based on page content rather than browser history – has been shown to be both private and effective: global research reveals that 69% of consumers are more likely to engage with contextually relevant content, while contextual targeting increases purchase intent by 14%.

Everything from a person’s device and favourite app, to the show or genre they listen to/watch will define the kind of content they seek out, and therefore, the ad best suited to their individual context. The better the data quality and the more nuanced the insights, the deeper the understanding brands and marketers have of their audience. This in turn lends itself to more personalised and creative segmentation and ad development.

Coupling these two methods can take this one step further: on-device processing makes it possible to determine higher quality audience segmentation which can then be used to drive better advertising.

The future of anonymous personalisation

The industry's reliance on data exists for a reason: by understanding specific behaviours, brands can infer individual needs and preferences. However, it is clear that technologies such as cookies are no longer a viable option. Consumers have the right to privacy and companies are bound to respect this.

By incorporating on-device solutions, brands can obtain first-party insights into how users engage with their campaigns as well as their websites while keeping them anonymous. These privacy-by-design solutions will allow companies to build their audiences ethically and effectively.