Beyond the data cliff: Precision and Persuasion

Beyond the data cliff: Precision and Persuasion


Time for a break

Mi3 Deep Dive on Data Privacy: IAB’s Gai Le Roy and privacy experts Peter Leonard, Anna Johnston and Ana Milicevi

Here’s a thought for the new year — isn’t it time we gave people a break from our presumptuous application of their personal data trail? Or at the very least we should ask ourselves whether we are using the information in the right spirit.

This line of thought was triggered at the back end of 2020, as I tuned in to the Mi3 podcast relating to the overhaul of the Privacy Act. It is valuable listening, with some very well informed points of view shared. One of the big take outs for me was the conundrum over who should ultimately be responsible for taking control of data privacy — the consumer themselves or the companies trying to reach them.

BCM Insight: “Asking Big Questions of Big Tech” August 2019

Who’s responsibility is it anyway?

Going back even further, in 2019 we wrote a review of the ACCC Digital Platform Inquiry “Asking Big Questions of Big Tech”. Within this one of the main aspects related to privacy and the correct use of data in the advertising system.

Recommendations suggested by the ACCC related to both sides of the story — helping consumers through knowledge and education, and companies through the provision of more structure to the correct use of data.

Can’t say much seems to have come from this inquiry though in 16 months — perhaps we can stick it in the COVID-19 impacted bucket. And yet we still find the debate heating up over data and consumer protection, with the recent Mi3 podcast a great example. Lots of great debate, but not much action.

A shady place

In the meantime we find ourselves freely applying data to communication strategies, often with the classic question of “yes I know we can do this, but should we do this?” left unasked.

Source: The Conversation website, November 2020, data point from Australian Privacy Commissioner’s 2020 survey.

Which gets you quickly to a very shady place. The heavy layering of dataset upon dataset that enables us to track down that elusive next customer and beat them into submission to buy a product or service. The level of precision available to us now is incredible, but this should come with a sense of great responsibility.

This goes back to the conundrum — should the consumer be responsible for their own data, or the companies that use it be responsible for how it is applied?

Perhaps it’s time we properly asked ourselves whether we should be doing more as an industry at the coal face, rather than waiting for legislation to make the call for us. People are clearly looking for action to be taken.

Precision and persuasion

Our belief at BCM is that the power and responsibility of precision should come with a strong understanding and respect towards the need for persuasion.

The fact is, regardless of form, advertising is about communicating a message that persuades someone to act. The precision part gets you to hello, the persuasion part makes the person on the other side want to say hello back.

In the continual narrowing of our strategies through increasingly precise targeting it is sometimes forgotten, and often not even possible, to inject a meaningful idea into the moment. There is only so much the humble banner can do. Don’t get me wrong — the capabilities of tech and data in the advertising mix are great but there is so much more to it. And doesn’t it feel like tech and data get far too much share of voice in the industry conversation?

The stuff of nightmares… for some

Which leads me to the big hairy question that keeps many people awake — what if the precision part of what we do disappeared tomorrow? That’s the greatest fear of many advertising and tech businesses that have built themselves around access to a never ending and unrestrained stream of personal information.

The federal attorney-general, Christian Porter, has called for submissions to the long-awaited review of the federal Privacy Act 1988. MICK TSIKAS/AAP

It is a good question to ask yourself and to prepare for. And let’s face it, with the current review of the Privacy Act in Australia it is a context that could become very real, and soon. For the ones that have doubled down on building tech and data stacks in house there will be nervous palpitations aplenty. For others it will be about how to prepare for change early, and keep ahead of legislation as best as possible.

It shouldn’t be that scary

Really the response could (and should) be kept simple — to shift the balance from precision towards persuasion. Rather than a reliance on data and targeting to drive a result we would shift greater focus to finding ways to connect with people through the power of a good, well thought through idea or platform that is designed to attract a result.

The benefit of asking the ‘what if’ question, a technique often used in strategic planning, is that it can reveal a powerful new approach. In this instance perhaps it will make you rethink the need to act with both precision and persuasion, so you get the best out of people now and potentially prepare you better for a more data scarce future.