Back to Basics: Data Collection in the New Privacy Era

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This is the latest in Street Fight’s “Pursuing Privacy” series – our editorial focus in January, including topics like GDPR, CCPA, and location data collection. See the rest of the series here and our full slate of monthly themes here.  

Privacy regulations are reining in marketers and ushering in a new era for data collection.

After years of heavy reliance on big data—and often using data as the primary point of reference when developing products, marketing strategies, and customer experience programs—marketers and other business executives have been forced to hit the brakes. The California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect this month, is chock full of privacy protections for consumers, and many of those protections are in clear opposition to the tactics top agencies and brands practice.

Some widely used marketing methods, like firmographics and psychographics, are coming to a halt as brands are forced to consider whether consumers actually want to receive their messages. In place of those practices, marketers are returning to older forms of data collection to once again create differentiated customer experiences, explains Dawn Colossi, chief marketing officer at the market research technology company FocusVision.

“I think with digital transformation came the notion that brand marketing didn’t matter as much because you could just target your audience,” says Colossi. “But with limitations on targeting and spamming, getting your brand known for things that customers care about—and this comes from understanding how they think and feel—will be crucial for marketers.”

Under the guidelines laid out in CCPA, consumers in California now have the right to know when their personal data has been collected, and they have the right to opt-out of the sale of their personal information. If a business is purchasing personal information about consumers in California, that business may have obligations to ensure its data vendors are CCPA-compliant.

As a result of these privacy regulations, as well as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), many marketers will have to change the way they do their jobs if they want to continue growing their businesses. Specifically, Colossi says marketers need to understand customers beyond a data-driven view to attract and retain their business. They can’t just rely on data alone to inform their practices.

“Digital targeting has allowed us to assume what people will want to buy based on firmographics. For instance, all women between ages 30 [and] 40 who just bought a house probably have small children, so they’d be targeted with family-oriented products in hopes that something catches their attention,” she says. “But instead, we need to understand what they care about and create helpful content around that which attracts the right target.”

Relying on big data has sometimes led marketers astray over the past decade, and Colossi says some marketers have forgotten the large impact that small data—uncovered by market research like surveys, qualitative interviews, and focus groups—can have on businesses.

New regulations that require marketers to ask permission before contacting potential customers could end up saving the industry from itself if companies are forced to return to older methods of data collection, leading to more useful, relevant data collection. Colossi believes that privacy regulations will cause brand identity and awareness to make a comeback in a “big way.”

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to ask permission through a form before reaching out to a potential buyer—it gives interested consumers control over their own information,” Colossi says. “For marketing and the business, it also targets your efforts and money on consumers who are genuinely interested.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.