Consumer privacy: Marketers can reach common ground on behavior-driven marketing

"I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half."

 – John Wanamaker, Department Store Tycoon and Marketing Pioneer of the early 20th Century

“There is an online privacy war going on, and without help, consumers will lose.”

– Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union

A lot has changed between the early 20th Century, when John Wanamaker delivered his famous quotation about the inexactitude of advertising, and March 2011, when Chris Calabrese argued for greater consumer privacy protections at a U.S. Senate Committee hearing.  Marketers still struggle to improve the precision and effectiveness of their advertising and promotions, but that desire is increasingly colliding with fears about data security and individual privacy.

Privacy debates – from concerns about the potential misuse of personal location data from smart phones, to ongoing discussions about the sharing of private information with advertisers by search and social media companies – have become major themes in news headlines, congressional hearings and the courts.  In 2010 alone more than 35 major privacy lawsuits were filed.   And despite the common argument of “opt-out” options being easily available, many consumers hold strong to legitimate concerns that their personal information is being sent to advertisers without their knowledge.

Behavioral-based consumer data (where consumers are located at a specific time, what web sites they visit, what content they search for and click on and, perhaps most valuable of all, where they shop and what they buy) hold tremendous and obvious value for marketers.  Targeting consumers based on their actual preferences, or even better their behavior, goes a long way to helping advertisers address Wanamaker’s conundrum – by identifying the best consumers to target with marketing dollars.  Clearly, there is also value in it for consumers: receiving more relevant advertising and offers, in and of itself, is far more of a blessing than a curse.  Many consumers and government administrations, however, worry that personal data has become a new marketing currency that is rapidly changing hands at the expense of consumer privacy. 

Consumer transactional data in the banking and payments industry is, in this regard, a potential game-changer for marketers.  Payment transactional data, from debit and credit cards, can help merchants direct marketing campaigns at consumers and businesses that spend significantly in specific categories, say grocery stores or restaurants, even those who spend with competing brands. They can provide rewards and offers to attract individuals who have proven, by their spending history, that they are potentially valuable consumers for a retail brand.  

One can easily imagine unethical uses of such personal data.  Yet, the truth is, transaction-driven marketing, when implemented with consumer privacy at its core, will provide tremendous advantages to all stakeholders, including banks, merchants and, most importantly, consumers.

For decades, banks have been processing millions of card transactions daily without monetizing either the data’s potential or, more recently, the capacity to fully utilize the online and mobile experience to provide customers with special rewards and offers from other non-competing businesses and brands.  Some banks have offered customers rewards programs within their online banking environments, but these offers have not been integrated into the consumer’s digital (online or mobile) banking account statements – the destination customers care about the most.  These generic rewards typically were of minimal value, and because they were not directed at consumers based on their actual transaction history, they were of very little relevance to those who actually bothered to click out of their banking statements to look at them.  Consequently, response rates were extremely low.

The opportunity to make digital banking a richer experience for consumers and a highly targeted advertising medium is huge.  Through digital banking, merchants and other brands can reach hundreds of millions of consumers they most want as customers with offers – all based on past transaction history. These offers can deliver highly relevant rewards that the individual consumer will truly value and use.  Advertisers can build more interactive and rewarding relationships with these high-value consumers leveraging web, mobile, SMS messaging and email channels.   They can also deliver these offers in a context (right next to previous transaction record in a similar spending category) that makes sense to the consumer. 

However, to be successful, transaction-driven marketing must completely protect bank customer information. It must also put the consumer and their trusted provider, the bank, in control – not marketers or advertisers. To do so, customer account information should be separated from the system that delivers the targeted offers. The financial institution creates an arbitrary Account ID for each account holder. Only the bank knows the correlation of Account IDs and Account Numbers. A retail offer placement system matches offers to suitable transaction histories associated with that Account ID. Marketers choose the parameters of their own campaigns, e.g. target Account IDs that have the transactional records they value, but no personally identifiable information is ever used in placing the targeted offers and no transaction data ever leaves the security of the bank’s data center.

Transaction-driven marketing offers numerous benefits for the consumer. Consumers benefit financially from participation in transaction-driven rewards programs through cash, points or miles rewards on established everyday purchases of goods and services. On average, consumers can benefit from $100-$200 in savings per year and there is no cap on the potential savings. 

But in order to be successful you must make the consumers feel safe:

  • Personal information not needed in the targeting system at all;

  • Transition history is not given to sales or marketing entities: Because there is no access to personal account holder information, transaction marketing providers, banks or retailers cannot provide any personally identifiable information on consumers to advertisers or third-parties;

  • It must be simple to opt out when you want: As account holders, consumers expect access to programs that can help them save money; however, it’s just as important that account holders can easily opt out of the program at any point if they wish. The truth is, however, very few consumers actually will opt out;

  • Lastly, if transaction-driven marketing is going to leverage transaction data as a reward solution, it must provide consumers with offers that are very relevant and provide significant value to stretch shopping budgets while also protecting privacy. 

Done right, transaction-driven marketing represents that very best way for marketers to find common ground with privacy advocates to deliver greater value for all concerned – especially the consumer.

Scott Grimes is an experienced entrepreneur and strategist. Prior to founding Cardlytics, Scott was a SVP at Capital One where he developed and launched decoupled debit - a product that is transforming retail banking and enables national direct marketing of debit products. At Canaan Partners, he worked on the investing side of the start-up world leading investments in early-stage tech companies. Grimes was a SVP of the leading e-Sourcing company FreeMarkets. He also spent eight years on an airplane as a Principal at McKinsey & Co and began his career with a 10-year stint at Schlumberger as an electrical engineer. Scott holds a BSEE from Union College and a MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business.

Grimes is a member of the following groups, associations and networks: Atlanta CEO Council, Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association, COF Payments Alumni, the Loyalty Marketer's Association, Payments & Cards Network. He speaks and appears regularly at Card Forum & Expo (annual event), Georgia CxO Forum and Loyalty and Rewards Expo.