Privacy Vs Personalisation

In 2021, the use of data is very much in the public eye. Awareness has been growing for a while, with consumer habits shifting from automatically ticking the ‘all cookies’ box to much more of an informed and concerned approach to privacy. Over time, this will reduce the flow of new useable data from individuals, but will no doubt be balanced out by the increase in open-source data available to buy. Personalisation has long been a significant goal for those that have large, accessible data stores, with the aim of controlling messaging and engagement with customers at a granular level – indeed, it is something that is often expected by consumers. With technology, accessibility, machine-learning, and analytics all improved, is this achievable? And how can it be achieved without consumers feeling their privacy has been violated?

How much Personalisation is needed?

Some basic Personalisation strategies and tools have been around for several years, especially in both mailshot and email marketing. The process has evolved so that organisations such as Spotify and Amazon now have vast amounts of data and complex mechanisms to predict our behaviour and requirements. However, these applications are considered specific and unique – but in the 2020s, the floodgates could be about to open with the application of the latest Machine Learning and AI techniques to the ever-growing amount of data. In the last two years alone, an astonishing 90% of the world’s data has been generated. Coupled with the increasing use of cloud-based storage and significantly faster bandwidth speeds, data is now being collected and accessed faster than ever before.

The question for businesses is: how much personalization does my business need to achieve its business goals? The pursuit of absolute personalisation comes with a higher and higher price tag and may not automatically deliver benefits. In addition, advances in privacy – both technological and regulatory – will moderate the ways businesses can use the data they collect.

AI v. Trust

We have seen a shift by consumers towards a more thoughtful view of their data as a currency, and an increased emphasis on privacy. Whilst demographics indicate there is still a large proportion of those under 30 happy to gain access and content by trading personal data, the various international regulators have started intervening to protect customer rights. Many businesses struggled with the implementation of GDPR a couple of years ago, and now we see further concern about the ‘tick all’ box at the bottom of the typical sign-up terms. In the last few months alone, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has come under increasing scrutiny for perceived changes to its terms, permitting the flow of personal data at a granular level between organisations and the further use of this data for enhanced personalisation.

Alongside this challenge, firms also must navigate the brand/trust journey, as it now easier than ever before to sustain reputational damage. Any potential benefits of personalisation must be weighed against the perceived ‘invasion of privacy’ – a delicate balance. Organisations must ensure they not only put the interests of the customer to the fore, but that they are ‘seen to be’ putting the customer first. The court of public opinion can sometimes be more brutal and final than any law court.

But there are also opportunities. Alongside consumers wanting to protect their data against misuse, they also do not want to be spammed. The paradox is obvious, so organisations that can offer what appears to be a ‘light touch’ personalisation may succeed – the question should always be: how are we ensuring this message or engagement is relevant to this customer? If it is not relevant – it’s spam.

2021 and beyond

The benefits for a forward-looking organisation are clear. The path to tread is that of being trusted by your customers, while collecting and utilising enough data to make every interaction personalised and worthwhile.  Those firms who choose to be aggressive in their use of data, even if it is ‘allowed’ under the terms, risk alienating themselves for the very people they need to engage. The convergence of a number of different specialisms into the ‘Personalisation’ role is exciting, with plenty of opportunities. But this is an arena where small steps are vital. Firms must be wary of what has come before where, for example, large banks lost the trust of its customer base, and the regulator-encouraged challenger banking sector flourished, thanks to a cavalier attitude to data.

Privacy and Personalisation can work together, but the customer must come first in both. If anything in this article has resonated with you and you would like to confidentially discuss how Norman Broadbent Change and Transformation could help you deliver significant and sustainable business change and business benefits, please contact Practice Director Mike Davies, on 07411 686616 or via email at