It’s widely accepted by marketers that consumers want increasingly personalized digital experiences. And while there’s considerable survey data that appears to support that general proposition, the truth is more situational and nuanced.
Resisting personalization. A new survey of 1,100 U.S. adults in March, conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) appears to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom about personalization. It found that “telling people that sharing their data will allow for a more personalized experience does not result in a greater willingness to share data.”
Overall, the survey found that consumers were using their PCs less and mobile apps more for daily and routine tasks, such as email, social media, music, content discovery and e-commerce.
But the findings about personalization are the most interesting and significant. In most instances, people seemed less willing to share information in exchange “for a personalized experience.”
Personalization offer didn’t impact openness to data sharing
Compared with 2018, people demonstrated somewhat more resistance to sharing personal data. According to ARF, “The biggest changes in respondents’ willingness to share their data from 2018 to 2019 were seen in their home address (-10 percentage points), spouse’s first and last name (-8 percentage points), personal email address (-7 percentage points), and first and last names (-6 percentage points).”
The survey also explored consumer trust in various media and institutions. Consistent with other surveys, ARF found declining levels of trust generally, though not radically so.
Americans’ trust in media and institutions
Putting aside Congress, social media and advertising are the least trusted among the various choices presented. For regular social media users, there is only a 1 point decline from 2018. However, occasional social media users’ trust was down 3 points, which is the same for general advertising.
The survey found the highest trust in “people like me.” Where might people encounter others like themselves online — social media or reviews.
Why should we care. Any single survey shouldn’t change our worldview. And this one asked relatively general questions about trust and personalization. Highly specific personal data scenarios could and likely would yield different answers.
It’s fairly clear that a kind of privacy-personalization paradox exists. So generalizations must always be qualified. People are increasingly sensitive to privacy issues but will share information when there are clear, defined benefits. Consumers also want retailers, platforms and brands to ask permission for use of their data. And, for some people, “personalization” may now be a dirty word, implying “tracking” or “surveillance.”
With the impeding implementation of CCPA and other data privacy bills making their way through state legislatures, we’re rapidly moving toward an opt-in data framework where marketers will need to ask permission to use personal data — and convincingly sell consumers on the benefits.