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AdTech Reboot

New Ways to Personalize Content for Customers Without Violating Their Privacy

Picture of Jeanine Moss

Jeanine Moss

Author at the Trust Web Times
Picture of Jeanine Moss

Jeanine Moss

Author at the Trust Web Times

Customers want personalization and privacy. Marketers want customers. Both need more efficient, effective, and legal ways to find each other, be informed, and engage. It’s finally possible to meet these needs through content without the profiling and the path is easier than you might think.

The story of privacy in digital marketing is a tale of two steps forward and three steps back. There is an irreconcilable tension between personalization and privacy because, practically speaking, the more personalized a user’s experience is, the more likely that experience is violating a user’s privacy.

For years, our movements across the internet have been tracked by cookies, creating a vast trove of data that was stored and correlated with behavioral and demographic data which was then used to personalize content, offers and graphics. Today, with cookies either gone or phasing out, marketers have turned to new techniques like unified IDs, tracking pixels, APIs and data mining, all of which are used to identify patterns, assemble cohorts, and extract information.

In today’s world, where people’s lives are increasingly intertwined with the internet and mobile apps, ensuring that their personal information remains private has become more critical than ever.

Customers and marketers must take matters into their own hands. Customers should control their personal data. Marketers should respect privacy. Both should connect willingly based on marketing methods that are legal and demonstrate respect for personal autonomy.

The good news is that today this is achievable. When customers willingly engage with a brand, goals are exceeded, sales increase, and customers are satisfied that the brand promise has been delivered.

Customers Like Personalization & Privacy. Marketers Want Customers.

Unless you provide your personal information or consent to have your behavior tracked, a brand has typically used cookies to track you and/or bought 3rd party data to “personalize” your digital experience. And personalization doesn’t just mean inserting your name, it means serving special offers, content and graphics that are most likely to make you buy.

As the industry extracted more and more data from cookies, their use became controversial because of the misuse of personal data.

Cookie tracking technology – once hailed as an ingenious solution for delivering personalized content and ads – now finds itself at the center of debate regarding online privacy rights.

The New Rules of the Privacy Road

To address the sunsetting of cookie tracking, companies are exploring alternative options. Google, for example, announced plans to eliminate third-party cookies within its Chrome browser by 2024 to blunt some of the criticism it receives for undermining digital privacy practices. They intend to replace third-party cookies with solutions that enable advertisers to deliver targeted ads without collecting individual user data directly. Named Topics API, Google’s solution will show ads based on interest-based categories. It is unclear, however, how precise or useful “Interest-based” categories will be.

Some companies are doubling down on Unified ID 2.0 solutions that use an email address as the primary identifier for online advertising. Other solutions suggest that users be grouped into “cohort segments” of like-minded individuals without tracking identifying user data.

Web browsers also offer enhanced privacy features like Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), that blocks third-party cookies and limits the time data can be stored. The Firefox browser blocks known third-party trackers by default. All websites today allow users to provide consent for tracking and personalized advertising.

Today, browsers and websites typically ask visitors to opt-out (people are automatically tracked unless they decline – or opt-out). In the future, this may be reversed and marketers may put more emphasis on “opt-in” to ensure their visitors are receptive to hearing from them or a related advertiser.

An opt-in default would likely create better interaction between a user and an advertiser since the engagement is by choice. The downside is that very few people will “opt in” to be targeted by advertisers, significantly reducing potential audience size.

The Importance of Intent Marketing
Intent Marketing focuses on targeting interest in a product, service or topic rather than people. It is emerging as the best way to connect with the right customer at the right time in a privacy compliant manner.

Demographics and psychographics don’t demonstrate intent. Behavior does. Instead of relying on tracking cookies, marketers can focus on intent indicators like search queries, website visits, content consumption, social media interactions, and other online behaviors.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a prime example of intent marketing. What could be a better indicator of purchase intent than someone searching for a “locksmith near me” at 1am?

SEM typically includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay Per Click (PPC) tactics. It connects search queries with contextually relevant content that addresses purchase intent without using tracking cookies.

At a time when cookies are phasing out, intent marketing is a respectful way to convert users into buyers. But SEM isn’t the only way to do it.

The Internet Was Built to Serve Content, Not People
The Internet was designed as an information hub, and that’s how people use it.

That’s why content marketing is so important. Content fuels all marketing from websites, social media, public relations, advertising, speeches and conferences to SEM. Content generates awareness, stimulates demand, creates conversion, and builds loyalty and advocacy. Quality content is how you achieve a first page ranking on Google.

Interaction with content is the best indicator of purchase intent, and it has the added benefit of being privacy compliant. A potential customer chooses to interact with your brand or product content. They don’t need to divulge any personal information.

So, if engagement with content is the best way to intersect with purchase intent in a privacy compliant way, how can we know what content will do the job, and how do you distribute it?

A New Data Option Targets Audiences Without Violating Their Privacy

Thought leader Guy Kawasaki observed, “Provide good content and you’ll earn the right to promote your product.”

It’s important to remember that before online tracking, marketers were very successful at targeting the right “intent” audiences through topics. Magazines are good examples of how content can gather and aggregate audiences.

Applying this thinking to the digital environment leaves room for a new data option that targets audiences based on content.

That data option is “contextual topic data” which provides insights into what topics real people seek and talk about when making their purchase decisions.

Using this data, brands reduce waste by targeting audiences at the right “intent moment” by creating content around the topics that drive brand engagement and conversion. 

AI Driven Topic Intelligence™ reveals the content that will convert best before you invest and taps into purchase intent

Using AI, Topic Intelligence discovers and ranks the topics and keyword data that people with purchase intent are responding to, and can be used across all marketing channels from articles to white papers, social media and email. This AI-driven approach predicts which topics and associated keywords will drive outcomes, enabling brands to optimize ROI before making investments. The technique delivers superior results with some brands increasing lead growth by 15x, traffic growth by 8x, and revenue growth of 5x.

Now a brand can use predictive topic data to craft powerful programs knowing which topic themes will drive engagement and conversion. More than that, topic targeting using Topic Intelligence data provides important business benefits:

  • Budget optimization
  • Increased conversion
  • Unification of sales and marketing
  • Audience insights

With the winds blowing towards privacy-respecting marketing tactics, topic-informed data lets marketers connect with people who have purchase intent and need to learn more. Using Topic Intelligence, marketers can map specific content with their marketing funnel to ensure that they are  answering the right questions at the right time to optimize conversion.


As digital privacy becomes more important, brands remain challenged to thread the needle between the desire to provide great personalized digital experiences and violating users’ digital privacy. This requires a rethinking of communications strategies and audience tracking.

The way forward necessitates new strategies and techniques for engaging people in an omnichannel environment without relying on personal data.

To ensure 100% privacy while intersecting with an “intent moment” is to track topics instead of people.

By prioritizing privacy, brands can establish genuine rapport that ultimately leads towards increased engagement and sales metrics across all channels and platforms.


Important Privacy Legislation You Need To Know

Legislation aimed at regulating how personal information is collected online is proliferating:

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted by the European Union (EU) in 2018

Mandates consent before collecting or processing personal data.

The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), enacted in January 2020

California residents have the right to know what data is being collected, used and shared.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

Regulates the protection and confidentiality of medical records and personal health information.

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

Requires parental consent for websites, apps, and online services that collect or store data from children under 13 years old.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)/ Financial Services Modernization Act

Requires financial institutions to reveal how they share and protect customer information.


About the Authors & Outfront Solutions

Jeanine Moss and Nicole DeMeo are founders of Outfront Solutions, an innovative branding, marketing and martech implementation firm serving enterprises, middle-marketing companies and global NGOs.

Get in touch with us to learn about how to improve your intent-based marketing results.