PII Is Not The Devil

personally identifiable information

PII scary? Not when it’s done right.

Somewhere along the way, the perception of personally identifiable information (PII) morphed into a huge scary monster lurking under the bed. 

“It has nine eyes!” “Sharp claws!” “It eats children!”

For what it’s worth, the naysayers, privacy hawks, and even your average consumer could be forgiven for having misconceptions or concerns. How many headlines have screamed about extremely personal data thought to be safe behind an iron gate falling into the wrong hands? On this front, these folks are right. Sensitive PII needs to be wrapped in the absolute top level of security and we’ve simply seen too many trusted data protectors fall short. 

Part of the disinformation going around is rooted in the fact that “PII” has unfortunately been used as a catchall term to describe everything from the benign to the scary monster stuff. 

But when used appropriately in a marketing sense? Basic PII that doesn’t include any sensitive consumer info has the power to finally usher in the ad experience consumers deserve. And that is why it’s poised to finally topple the once mighty cookie. 

Wait, so what is PII exactly? 

Heck, I’m in the identity business and we can’t even get the key stakeholders in our industry to agree on how exactly to define PII. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about PII as it relates to a single profile containing name, address, and some demographic info. In other words, the sorta boring stuff. 

The thing is, this kind of PII – boring as it may be – is actually the best foundation for effective, relevant marketing campaigns. That’s because it’s meant to be nothing more than an accurate representation of a human being. One with a pulse. And a wallet! 

Granted, this is a departure from the cookie-based world we’ve tolerated for the last many years. (Movie trailer voice!) “A world where there are dozens of digital personas that look like you. You don’t know where they are and you can’t get rid of them. They’re used to serve you an endless stream of mostly irrelevant ads that keep filling and filling your inbox…FOREVER!”

Now that’s the stuff of nightmares, if you ask me. But it also points to another major benefit of an ad world where PII is the currency: it’s completely opt-in. A digital profile for one human makes it exponentially easier to actually adhere to consumer preferences. That means not badgering people who don’t want to see your messages. 

And really, isn’t that what better, more effective marketing campaigns are all about? 

We’re all getting more accustomed to a digital world that is built just for us. Netflix tells us what shows we’ll like. Spotify suggests new music. Web browsers present us with news that interests us. These days, if it’s not personally tailored, we’re engaging less and less. 

Done right, PII is not scary. It’s not illegal. It’s not even something consumers need to think much about. So what does right look like? In our view, PII must be: 

  • Secure. Above all else, protecting PII data with the highest levels of security. On this front, NSA-grade encryption is emerging as an important foundation for PII protection.
  • Accurate. PII profiles must be refreshed constantly to ensure an accurate representation of consumers. When combined with digital signals based on preferences consumers opt-in for, PII becomes even more powerful. This results in better relevance and messages that resonate with recipients. 
  • Permission-based. If a consumer hasn’t opted in, it doesn’t count. BRIDGE was behind hundreds of thousands of campaigns last year and every one of them included permission language. In cases where the records are vague or can’t be verified, they get tossed. It’s just not worth bothering consumers with something they haven’t asked for. 
  • Timely. It’s all about the right message to the right person at the right time with the right media. That’s a lot of “rights” but any other way is just wrong in this climate. Taking these extra steps actually reduces marketing costs because messages are delivered to the absolute most receptive audience. 

Now, not all PII is created equal. In my next post, I’ll dive into the different ways PII is collected and what any marketer should consider before running a campaign based on it. 

Get in touch if you’d like to learn more.

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