Great Marketing Doesn't Need Private Data

Now that GDPR is in full swing and the hellstorm of UPDATED OUR PRIVACY POLICY emails has ended its starting to sink in that data privacy is here to stay. Now marketers are starting to reflect on what exactly that means for us and how we practice our craft.

But before we can do that, it’s worth recapping how we got here because honestly, we did it to ourselves.

Related: Former Google Chariman Discusses Future of AI

How Did We Get Here

GDPR came about because we looked at data as a way to make targeting more effective. After all, the case study of Target figuring out a teenage girl was pregnant before her family did is now the stuff of marketing lore. Everyone figured that:

More data -> Hyper personalized targeting -> More conversion

The epitome of “the right message, at the right time” amiright?


Turns out, instead of always giving the customer what they were looking for – when they wanted it, what we did is create retargeting ads so those headphones you just bought on Amazon can follow you around the internet for the next 3 weeks. That’s a “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” moment if there ever was one (thanks, Peter Thiel).

So where did everything go so wrong? After all, great marketing still requires the same 2 things it always did:

  1. Great content
  2. Delivered when the customer wants it

Great content comes from understanding consumers. This is where the obsession with consumer data came from.“ If we know what you had for breakfast, we know what to sell you for lunch.” This mindset is not only flawed, it was taken to the extreme.

Striking the Balance

The fact is, personalization doesn’t really work that well. Well, it does. But there’s a limit to its effectiveness. According to Neil Patel, things like names and relevant suggestions may work because we think we are treating customers like humans they are, but the fact is any increase tops out at about 1% – 2% but more often than not using names actually decreases conversions.
Why? Because even though we think we are treating customers like they’re human, they know damn well that email is part of a blast to a list or the first in a line of drip campaigns.

Neil (rightly) makes the point that depersonalizing marketing actually makes it more effective because a personalization token is no replacement for honest and authentic communication. People can smell that b.s from a mile away and they trust you less for being disingenuous.
That’s right, what people want is to be spoken to in a voice that resonates with them. Not an automated email that uses their name with a 50/50 shot at getting the capitalization right depending on how it got added to the CRM.

Content is What Makes the Difference

While targeting is an important piece of good marketing, we believe it’s a small piece. What matters so much more is communicating with people on their terms. And believe it or not, that doesn’t require their Social Security Number, mother’s maiden name, favorite pet, internet history, or *gasp* contact information with affirmative consent or legal basis for contacting them.