Today everything you do on the Internet will be tagged and tracked, which means there is even more data about everything marketers need to know about their audience. The data is more commonly known as "Big Data" where marketers utilize cookies and device IDs to identify their potential customers. Most importantly, the more companies understand about their customers the more they can empower their products and services. The new challenge for marketers is to utilize data without violating users' privacy preferences and protecting individuals' Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

How can marketers and advertisers utilize "Big Data" in a better way?

Go after people instead of devices

Advertisers now have more options than ever before when it comes to delivering relevant messages to their target audience - the same users with the highest probability of engagement. It has always been easy to reach broad audiences with simple, over-arching messages, but reaching everyone with the same message is never ideal, nor for engagement or ROI. Harvard Business Review Research indicates that targeted ads do in fact increase users' purchasing intentions. Advertisers following this trend are continuing to create more granular audience segments based on users' online behaviors (defined by cookie data and device IDs), and continue to reach potential customers this way.

As a marketer, you must be familiar with the buzzword "people based marketing," While this new trend is booming for marketers and customers alike, oftentimes confusion occurs with what "people based marketing" means.

Like cross-device marketing, people based marketing does reach users across all of their connected devices, but differs because it is not solely focused on cramming the message down a user's throat wherever they turn. Alternatively, it allows a marketer to reach a customer at the right time, with the right message. According to the recent Atlas study, more than 40% of consumers shift between devices during the conversion process which makes it much harder for marketers to use just cookies to reach the right audience.

Previously, advertisers relied on device IDs to control messaging, which sometimes created inconsistency and issues with messaging, like over-serving ads to the same user. Currently, it's estimated that by 2020, there will be 50 billion internet connected devices, up from 15 billion in 2017, which will make it even harder to identify users based on device IDs. The methodology of people based marketing is to create a single user profile and a unique ID per user to control ad exposure and organize messages without violating privacy rights.

Utilizing customer data

Consumer data is the most valuable asset for today's companies. Using this data, companies can have better CRM strategies, can create new products and services to better suit their consumers, and receive greater feedback from clients, thus creating better user experiences.

One application of data usage that has become a widespread adoption on many platforms (from YouTube to news websites) are the "things you may like" or "recommendations for you" sections. For instance, Netflix uses users' engagement data to provide visuals and information that will get users to choose a video they like. Netflix's engagement data includes every play, pause, search, and click from their current members and past ones too. Machine learning does wonders to spot patterns in this data, using similarities between one user and groups of users to make predictions. "A very realistic vision is that we should get to the point where you just turn on your Netflix app and automatically a video starts to play that you're very happy with," says Vice President of Innovation Carlos Gomez-Uribe.

From the consumers' perspective, this is one helpful application of leveraging data that is collected to avoid other issues that come with being completely connected to the online world--like avoiding analysis paralysis. Now you can let the data of your past habits make recommendations for you.

Collecting and storing consumers' data isn't always a terrible thing, as long as these very same companies continue to utilize the data in applications beneficial to the consumers without making it feel too intrusive.

Restricted Areas

Even though no generally applicable digital privacy law exists in the U.S., companies should be aware of the federal laws that govern privacy policies in specific circumstances, such as:

- The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) affects websites that knowingly collect information about or targeted at children under the age of 13.

- The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires institutions significantly engaged in financial activities give clear, conspicuous, and accurate statements of their information sharing practices.

- The Health insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rules requires notice in writing of the privacy practices of health care services, and this requirement also applies if the health service is electronic.

Some states implemented more stringent regulations for privacy policies. The California Online Privacy Protection Act requires any commercial websites or online services that collect personal information on California residents through a website must conspicuously post a privacy policy on the site.

One of the most recent incident we can refer to is Turn Inc., which enabled sellers to target digital ads that continuously targeted consumers even after they opted-out. The company's privacy policy told consumers they could block targeted advertising by using their web browser's settings to block or limit cookies. However, the company used unique identifiers to continuously track users even after they opted-out.

From small business to big business, having more access to user data will give advertisers and marketers significant benefits. Some of these include accurately identifying target audiences in order to send more relevant advertisements, while empowering companies' CRM systems to increase brand loyalty. Additionally, marketers and advertisers need to let users know that their data is protected. In order to do so, companies should clearly state the usage of user data in their privacy policy section. They must provide the ability for users to choose what information they are willing to let companies leverage and always give them the ability to opt-out of sharing their data.

This article was co-authored by Wenbo Jin @GravityMediaLLC