Was that title too forward? Should I sugar coat the challenge (or opportunity) at hand with a different title like "consumers seem to be warming to the idea that their personal data has intrinsic value for marketers, and they want remuneration or out of the data business altogether"?
Well, let’s be real with ourselves. We know that large amounts of data have great value; that’s why platforms based on IDs like Facebook and Google are the darlings of Wall Street. That is also why every major media business has data on its mind and in its pitch responses. It’s big business.
Whether we like it or not, we are all in the data game now -- playing by the rules of others, fighting an uphill battle, and hoping we catch up before consumers catch on. We must move faster, and pivot harder.
If you look closely as you move through your non-work day, seeking out words like, "data," "breach," "ecommerce," "mobile" and "tech," you will notice an ever-increasing tendency for these words to be found in the headlines of our world, increasingly on more consumer-focused publications and channels. The data discussion is literally moving from MSNBC to NBC, from The Economist to The Guardian, from Nikkei Business to Nikkei Daily.
Collective consumer consciousness is rising globally. It’s now clear that 2016 will be the year that the people (our families, friends, acquaintances) said "enough." We are reaching a tipping point where consumers understand their data as exactly that -- "‘their data." So what will happen next?
There are a few scenarios that could play out over the next couple of years. Most likely we will continue to face a fragmented data landscape with differing levels of consumer understanding and intervention -- a little of this, a little of that, but nothing will stay the same. Consumers may get sick of being followed and collected for the benefit of others. Consumers could fully embrace ad blocking -- either by their will or the will of their handset designers.
According to an Adobe PageFair report, there are now 198 million active ad blockers in the world today, costing publishers £22 billion a year. While the report has been disputed, there’s no doubt that change is in the air. It’s expected that the number of consumers using ad blockers will increase this year, especially if a vast majority of the industry continues to programmatically serve "one-size-fits-all" banners.
Apple is allowing some ad blockers on iOS, but did you know that Samsung tried to allow ad blockers on its handset a couple weeks ago? Of course, Google (Android) removed it from the store at first, and then u-turned on its decision. Their resistance and then acceptance speaks volumes. So what’s with the handset players moving into this space?
Some theories suggest that Apple is seeking to create a complete "premium walled garden" where few outside brands can gain access to their users and screen space is kept clean, clutter free, chic -- i.e., Apple-like. This is not hard to imagine when we think about Apple replacing Google maps with their own maps product years ago. We could envision a day when the "I only use Apple products" mentality also applies to digital spaces. Music, Maps, News are now well established in iOS.
Apple just needs an impressive video and social space and consumers will experience a heavily guarded physical and virtual walled garden where ads are few and data is controlled by very few entities. It’s worth noting that Dr. Dre is working on a video series for Apple.
We can’t divorce technology changes from cultural shifts -- the two work in tandem. If the above mentioned examples are not proof enough that consumer consciousness is rising, pick up (or search for) a book called The Circle. This book will open your eyes to what might become the common narrative of our industry -- a dystopia where corporate people want to track your every move and eliminate all privacy.
Sure, maybe that semi-intellectual book won’t make an impact on mass culture, which tends to be obsessed with Hollywood flicks. However, the Emma Watson and Tom Hanks film based on The Circle with a release data in 2016 likely will shift consumer opinion. How will people feel when they know corporations can, in aggregate, see people’s every move -- from GPS location to searches to feelings to words used in private messages? Regardless of whether it’s completely true or not, mass sentiment will shift. Will it make most people angry, ambivalent or happy?
As tech and consumer consciousness change, symbiotically, we may start to see new data management businesses born altogether. As ad blockers and consumer awareness rise, we may witness new data opportunities and businesses born. People.io is a real company that seeks to reward people for their personal data. Opt in and start receiving rewards, answer questions and get more points, and see fewer ads except those that you are sure to like and value -- i.e., control what you are served and what data you share. This new platform acknowledges that consumers’ data has value and allows them to receive value for it in the form of fewer and better-targeted offers and rewards.
Consumer consciousness is rising; people are increasingly aware that their data has value. Over the next year, our industry must work to use their data more wisely so that their trust is not jeopardized. Better targeting with better work should ensure a content-to-consumer cultural fit. For the sake of our jobs, work harder to produce and serve content that matters more.
Only when consumers see the dystopia of missing out on great, entertaining and useful content will they want a data-rich (and safely regulated) media landscape.