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Founder, CEO
Date: 08 January 2020
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It's Time for A Major Transformation in The Digital Marketing Ecosystem

Adtech is riddled with fraud. It’s time that brands and publishers take control and rebuild trust in the digital advertising industry.

Trust is the foundation of every successful business organization, but you’d never know it by looking at the digital marketing industry. Customers are often told the internet is free, when in reality, they’ve been paying for it with their personal information. Their personal data is often collected (sometimes without their knowledge) and then utilized in the form of advertising.

It’s time for the industry to reverse this trend and create an ecosystem built on trust, transparency and choice.

In its current form, the digital marketing system is complex and opaque. There are thousands of companies collecting, buying and selling consumer data, making it a breeding ground for fraud. Brands and publishers have been made to believe there are no viable alternatives, and they continue to fund this system. And it all comes at the expense of users, whose data is tracked and transacted indiscriminately, without their consent.

This is essentially stealing, so no wonder this behavior is increasingly deemed illegal. A growing number of local, national and multinational governmental organizations have enacted privacy laws to prevent this kind of underhanded data collection.

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Not only is this behavior unethical and illegal, but it’s also bad business. In fact, according to our company survey of more than 287,000 people, 52% of consumers agree that intrusive or irrelevant messages give them a poor opinion of the app or website hosting the messages -- especially if data was unknowingly collected from them. That’s why it’s time to establish a different model -- one that’s based on trust, transparency and user choice.

Before the internet, when business was mainly physical, consumers had more intimate and tangible relationships with the businesses they patronized. They could see the gleaming marble floors of their bank and interact face-to-face with their teller. They received in-person customer service when shopping for clothes. They could touch and feel the business they were buying from, and it engendered trust.

Trust is far more fickle on the internet. The intangible nature makes it harder for consumers to understand just who they’re dealing with and what is being transacted. In the case of the digital marketing industry, many companies take advantage.

Digital marketing’s trust problem has become even more pronounced in recent years due to high-profile data scandals. As a result, the businesses succeeding on the internet are the ones best at establishing trust with consumers. In fact, our company survey found that 71% of mobile users globally would share their data if they knew exactly which data was being collected and how it would be used.

In the short history of the internet, we’ve gone from an information economy (the Web 1.0 days) to a connection economy (social media, or Web 2.0) to our current stage, the sharing economy. The sharing economy is exemplified by companies such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and TaskRabbit, which have built online platforms that allow individuals to buy and sell each other’s goods and services.

Just as recently as several years ago, it would have been unthinkable to stay in a stranger’s home on vacation instead of booking a hotel room, or to jump in a stranger’s car instead of waving down a taxi. Sharing economy companies such as Lyft, Uber, Airbnb and TaskRabbit have made these transactions commonplace by making trust their highest priority. Through user reviews and rigorous vetting systems, they’ve been able to earn consumers’ trust (and become multibillion-dollar organizations in the process).

In the sharing economy, trust is the ultimate currency. And the advertising industry is entering a similar era of digital integrity.

The newfound emphasis on trust has made the digital marketing industry’s lack of trust all the more glaring, however. The only way for our industry to establish trust is to be radically transparent with consumers and give them total control over when and how their data is collected and used.

Under the current system, consumers have no choice about their data. Either their data is tracked without their consent, or they are forced to agree to data tracking in order to visit a website. Instead, brands and publishers need to be exceedingly honest with consumers about data collection, and present them with a simple choice:

  1. Pay to access content in an environment free of ads and data collection.
  2. Agree to specific data collection and personalized ads in exchange for free access to content.
  3. Or opt out from data collecting, but receive more, less relevant advertising.

More often than not, users will opt for No. 2. Most consumers are willing to exchange data for reduced-cost access to content and services; they just want the transaction communicated clearly and upfront. When that exchange is communicated clearly, it builds trust. Consumers have a better perception of the brands and publishers that get their consent, and that builds long-term brand affinity.

Doing this is easier than most companies think. All a brand has to do is give consumers a clear choice as to whether they’d like to share their personal information -- and explain the pros and cons of each choice, just as stated in the three options above.

Much like with the sharing economy companies, trust will be the currency that powers the next phase of the digital media industry. Building trust is not only ethical and legal, but it’s also good business.

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