The Case For Personification

andrewfrankddtData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Andrew Frank, research vice president at Gartner.

Of all the challenges facing data-driven marketers today, finding the right balance between relevance and privacy ranks near the top.

Personalize too aggressively and we invite backlash, but target too broadly and we risk being ignored. Consumer surveys don’t offer much guidance. They tell us that consumers want more personalized shopping experiences, but are wary and resentful of being tracked.

Privacy advocates often point to advance informed consent and choice as cures for unwanted personalization, but ad tech has evolved beyond the point where the de-identification techniques of collaborative targeting can be explained in simple terms. The industry needs a clear message here, but in their promotional zeal many providers have only added to the confusion by embracing oxymoronic terms like “anonymous personalization.”

Persona discovery and activation have come a long way, but we need a new name for the process. So now we have a new term: “personification,” which means to express the idea of targeting personas rather than specific people.

Providers embracing personification acknowledge that we need a bright line between experiences that are tailored to a specific individual – who opted in – and those tailored to a group in which individual membership might be inferred from anonymous behavioral clues under user control.

Fortunately there’s already an evolving set of principles and advanced techniques designed to support this distinction. Curiously, however, it seems to lack a clear label – at least, that’s the view of many industry insiders I’ve spoken with on this topic.

Needed Framework

Perhaps the need for a better label hasn’t been fully felt. After all, despite occasional flare-ups of privacy concern in the ever-shorter popular news cycle, data-driven marketing is enjoying a historical gold rush and already suffers from a surfeit of jargon.

Nonetheless, as the programmatic marketplace moves beyond its dependency on third-party cookies and looks toward even more potentially invasive data collection from wearables and beacons, these issues will only become more acute. Marketers are learning how to better leverage first-party data and making private arrangements with publishers and retailers to incorporate second-party data into marketing campaigns, which they’re increasingly bringing in-house to execute. As they do, the need for a personification framework grows.

Such a framework would incorporate a privacy-by-design approach into the translation from customer segments – derived analytically from first-party data collected about real individuals through their interactions and transactions – into personas, which are proxies for key segments that have been stripped of all personally identifiable information and can be shared with partners under cryptographic controls. The personification process is responsible for assuring that only aggregate data, which marketers elect to share with partners under negotiated terms, is securely transmitted.

Four Domains

In the marketing suite, personification must span four technology domains. First, it must include a master audience profile capable of representing and distinguishing known and anonymous profiles, and performing one-way translations of segments into personas.

The second domain includes a collaborative workflow capable of managing secure onboarding of persona data to and from external parties, and the development of strategic content assets to match persona needs.

The suite must also have an orchestration platform capable of applying rules and algorithms to the targeting and delivery of experiences to personas across channels and formats.

Finally, the fourth domain: advanced analytics that can perform both long-range strategic analysis of customers and market trends and short-term operational analysis of real-time conditions to refine personas and tactics.

In the coming months you can expect data brokers and marketing tech providers to be much more explicit about the limits of personalization. The risks of mounting consumer pressure, vague regulatory crackdowns and a complex minefield of local laws and exploits make it necessary to stop promoting “universal personalization” and “true one-to-one marketing,” while we start talking about how to assure our personified customers that they remain anonymous until they raise their hands. As marketers, we need to put behind us the illusion that data gives us the right to call everyone we meet by their first name.

Follow Gartner (@Gartner_inc) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. This is great. That is, indeed, the challenge – ham-fisted retargeting (hey! I bought that Subaru a year ago!) or creepies. We’re still finding some challenges with B2b though – would love some commentary on that?