I flew there thinking, "This is the year” — when the industry calls each other out on all the bad data practices that have been in play for so long. This is the year that brands boldly say they will stop certain data uses within their organization, or that they will end partnerships that they don't feel best serve the consumer.
Instead, I heard crickets.
I heard plenty of debate about the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and if/when there will be federal regulation.There's was talk of whether brands are for or against self-regulation, and what they would like to see happen. But I heard nothing about what brands were going to do themselves to address the root causes that got us here in the first place.
What I did hear in abundance was every brand stating that it’s purpose-driven, that the consumer is first, that it’s focused on a seamless, personalized experience. I especially loved Elizabeth Rutledge, CMO of American Express, saying that she now manages a "C to B" world.
But if we’re all united in the belief that consumers come before all else, that they control their relationship with brands, why weren't there more industry-defining moments in Cannes about the ethical use of their data?
This is the industry that repeatedly steps up against injustice, whether it is about equality, health, violence, you name it. Why isn't consumer data privacy and transparency on the hit list?
The most productive session I heard on this topic all week was at an Ad Council party that hosted several writers from the New York Times’ Privacy Project. It was a real and honest slap of reality in a sea of rosé. No one was off the hook: They called out data companies, platforms, and brands, as we all have a duty to fix these issues.
We all know that GDPR was just the beginning. U.S. legislation is breathing down our backs, but that shouldn't be the reason the industry finally takes action. If we are truly being consumer-first, then brands have a much bigger reason than legislation to address the issue of what they know about consumers and how they know it. That reason is brand trust. If we don't change the rules, consumers (and the law) will do it for us. So why not turn this inflection point into an opportunity to reset your data relationship with consumers — on their terms?
Because doing so seems — and is — hard. Because it involves finding new and creative ways to capture data that is relevant to driving relationships. But I ask you this: How much of the data you are tracking, buying, and scraping are you really using to drive personalization? The numbers are staggeringly low.
It's time to shift focus off big data that goes nowhere to small, actionable data that drives lifetime value and deeper relationships with consumers. It's time to put data collection and usage practices in place that are transparent and build brand trust with consumers. And finally, it's time to provide real value to consumers in exchange for that data.
The brands that do so will win.