Siobhan Solberg: The Symphony of Privacy and Marketing

When I was asked to conduct my first interview of 2023 for the Bora blog, I was thinking about whom to invite to speak about cybersecurity, privacy, and marketing. Well, the Universe has some strange ways of bringing people into your path, as it was at this time that I noticed, liked, and connected on LinkedIn with Siobhan Solberg.

Siobhan shares a very interesting story about how she found herself in marketing and privacy. Siobhan is the founder of Raze, a niche agency specializing solely in measuring and optimizing marketing data. You can follow her on LinkedIn and her personal website, where she talks and educates marketers on how they can make sense of privacy regulations and leverage this knowledge to build effective marketing campaigns that respect their customer’s data.

Without further ado, here’s the edited version of our chat. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I did.

Hi Siobhan. Can you please introduce yourself?

Siobhan: “Certainly. It’s interesting because I started my career life as a musician. I was a classical musician in New York and taught a lot of music. And then, at some point, I decided I wanted to leave the States and move abroad. Moving abroad, I decided not to work in music anymore, and I started working as a content marketer in a media agency. As I was there, I moved my way up into marketing, conversion rate optimization, and a lot of data and business intelligence to slowly but eventually become the CMO of this media agency.

On the side, I started doing a lot of studies relating to data, marketing, and optimization. And that’s what I did for a long time: optimization and measurement marketing. 2018 came around, the GDPR had just come out, and everyone asked me what was going on with their data because they were all worried about their privacy. Most people didn’t understand what data they had or what they were doing with their data, so naturally, they went to the person that was working with their data, which was me. And I didn’t have many answers to tell you the truth because I also did not know what was happening. But the more questions I got, the more curious I got, and I started researching it.

Long story short, I ended up getting really into it. I took my CIPM and CIPP/E, joined an accelerator, and wrote my privacy notices to get a good feel for it. As I was doing that, I realized there’s a huge kind of communication gap between marketing and privacy. And that is where I have decided to focus. So I still have my marketing agency, working in optimization and measurement marketing but with a privacy angle. I work as a privacy slash marketing consultant. Some people hire me for the marketing bit with the privacy expertise, and others the other way around. So it’s interesting.“

What do you think will be the future of privacy regulation moving forward?

Siobhan: “I think that two things will happen. Number one is that people, countries, and states will be playing catch up to get on the privacy bandwagon. That’s a good first step. The statistics say that 75% of the countries will have a privacy regulation, leading to businesses trying to adjust how they market and deal with international data transfers and personal data. But I think that after that, we will get to the point where we realize we need to start making some adjustments and consider where we have gone. Obviously, there are various acts and regulations, but it’s becoming such a mess that things will have to be streamlined.

Some of the regulation needs to be reconsidered because it is becoming much more unfriendly for businesses and people working with them. And that’s not the purpose of it. The purpose is for us to be able to use it and respect people’s data. Privacy regulation is getting to the point where people must make it easier, more accessible, and more understandable.“

How can companies respect privacy and yet be able to measure and optimize their marketing operations? Are those two terms conflicting, or can they work together?

Siobhan: “I think if you had asked me five years ago, I would’ve said there’s no way. And it is conflicting. I’m not of the same opinion now. It is all about a mindset shift.

As marketers, we were used to collecting, storing, and analyzing every data point we could access without any regulations or repercussions. We could take off people’s personal data, input it into other systems, find more information, and build more audiences. We’ve gotten lazy because what has happened is we could just plug things into places and have everything we wanted.

It all started with the e-Privacy directive and the cookie policies. At that moment, many marketers were wondering what they could do. And a lot of marketers resisted. Then came GDPR regulating what we do and how we can do it, how to store and what you can do with personal data. It was getting trickier for the marketer to the point where they either decided to ignore it, bail out marketing, orshift the way they think about data. But ultimately, there is no need to have every data point. And you can still optimize, and you can still measure, and you can still track your users.

Additionally, consent banners are no one’s favorite, but we have to work with them to be able to measure certain bits of information. You can make it clear what you’re trying to do so that you can get your consent rate higher. And you can take so much of the aggregated data, so much of the data that’s not personal, especially if you have their consent. If you have consent to do that, meaning they’ve allowed you to, you’ve got a treasure trove of data to decide to optimize and measure. You’ve got so much information you do not need to know the user’s individual information.

Privacy is forcing marketers to think a little bit more again, which is a good thing. And it’s also forcing marketers to look at more contextual segments and other ways to personalize communication with their users without being creepy. There are so many ways you can do it. You just have to change the way you think about it.“

What is the biggest challenge for respecting privacy in the marketing sector?

Siobhan: “I think the biggest challenge is the lack of understanding of privacy because there isn’t very much out there that makes privacy accessible to marketers. But ultimately, it comes down to the fact that there is no good communication around it. When there is communication with the marketing team, and they understand that the goal of the DPO and the goal of marketing is the same, which is to respect your customer’s data, then the barrier really drops.

A lot of lawyers are involved in privacy. It’s not pleasant to read any of this stuff. Even when you read articles discussing privacy, they’re over your head; they’re dry and not engaging. A marketer gets turned off because a marketer is taught to engage and to write things in an appealing way. There’s nothing relating it to their day-to-day work. The moment you take privacy and the principles of the GDPR and you relate them to similar ideas in marketing, there is a complete change in the way marketers work. And most importantly, it drops the barrier between legal and the DPO and marketing because they start conversing and moving forward. That’s the biggest challenge, understanding what is regulating the marketer’s job.“

Could you highlight some of the benefits of a privacy-friendly marketing campaign?

Siobhan: “Besides the obvious, which means you’re compliant, you reduce risk. When you have a breach, you know that you’ve done everything, and you’re reducing the chances of a fine. The whole company needs to be on board, including marketing.

Those are the obvious benefits in terms of the fines and the regulation. But there are a lot of other benefits. A lot of them are that a customer expects it now. When you set up your consent banner and clearly and concisely communicate your privacy policy, your customers will see that you respect them and their data, and they will come back and give you more data.

Privacy builds a relationship. It’s part of building trust with your customers. And in marketing, we all know that a brand needs to build trust. Suppose you’re scamming them with emails that are not relevant, asking them for a ton of information without explaining why you need this data, or you don’t have a clear privacy policy. In that case, your customers won’t trust you anymore. All of these elements allow a customer to trust you more, which means they will spend more money with you and keep coming back to you.

I’ve noticed that the companies are integrating privacy with their marketing teams, in their content, in their funnels, and in the way they’re interacting with their customers; it’s making a huge difference in that customer relationship. And it’s allowing them to grow. It’s not when you will do it anymore. You have no choice. There are no ifs, buts, and maybes. You will lose your business if you don’t start figuring out how to become a privacy-friendly company and run privacy-friendly marketing campaigns.

I think that the more the general public gets educated and understands privacy and why it’s around, the more their concerns about how we deal with their personal data will increase, and they will demand it. You don’t have a choice as a marketing team other than to respect it.“

What are your top three best practices for building a privacy-friendly marketing campaign?

Siobhan: “My big number one would be to get your DPO or legal team involved from step one. Don’t wait until you have your whole campaign or project set up, and then go to them and ask for approval. Bring them into the conversation very early and tell them your intentions and goals because that allows our conversation to start very quickly. If there are barriers that DPO or legal can bring up while you’re still working on the campaign, it means, ultimately, you will reduce the bottleneck at the end. That’s my biggest piece of advice.

Secondly, I always say, how would you feel if that’s done to you? It’s a question you can keep on asking yourself. Before you ask for specific data points or before you start collecting certain data points, before you start writing emails, just ask yourself, “How would I feel about that?” That will give you a reality check when it comes to privacy because it allows you to step into your customer’s shoes and see it from a different lens.

And number three is before you start any kind of campaign, you must educate yourself on the basic regulation to realize when and how to collect data. Marketers should only collect necessary data. Before you start a campaign, understand what rules might be regulating data so you know what you can or cannot do. And that ties right back into number one, having an open communication channel with your DPO. You don’t need to know the laws, but you need to be open to hearing them.“

What trends are you seeing in marketing?

Siobhan: “Marketing trends are all about AI right now. How everything can be automated. Another concern or trend people talk about is the depreciation of third-party cookies. It’s a massive conversion, mainly because Google keeps pushing the date. But they’re going to have to depreciate them at some point. Another significant trend also based on cookies is zero-party cookies.

Behind these trends, I can see the idea of returning to the foundations of marketing. Direct mail is coming up. Emails are a lot more valuable now, so we’re going back to the old-school days in some ways.“

Can we focus a little bit on generative AI? Do you think it’s like a panacea for marketing, or should we be cautious about how we use those tools?

Siobhan: “I think we need to be pretty cautious about how we use AI tools. Especially when it comes to what you’re inputting. AI can improve your productivity and make things so much more efficient for you, which is great, and it can help you if you’ve got an idea and a target audience, and a concept; it can even help you write a bunch of things for you and create scripts, which is also great. AI is constantly changing, but the most considerable risk for marketing teams is what they feed into the system. Marketers must be very careful because whatever you’re feeding into the system will ultimately be used to teach that tool.

You need to be cautious about what you’re inputting. Trade secrets are not a good idea. Personal data is not a good idea. Financial data is not a good idea. But it seems we get lost somehow because you see people dumping everything in. There’s so much hype right now that everyone wants to try it without thinking ahead. I’m definitely for the innovation and moving forward with it, but we need to do it responsibly.“

You mentioned in the beginning of our interview that you are a musician. What does music mean for you?

Siobhan: “Music is my way of expressing myself. Music has always been my way of expressing my emotions, my feelings, and the things I don’t really want to talk about.“

Five quick questions.

  1. Favorite kind of music and band? Hard Rock, and Rammstein.
  2. Favorite food? Going to a good Greek fish tavern by the sea is probably amazing. But my favorite food is a piece of toast with olive oil, salt, and tomato.
  3. Favorite place for vacations? The Greek islands, wherever there’s wind.
  4. And your favorite book? Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.
  5. What would you like to do if you weren’t doing what you are doing right now? I would be a landscape architect.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to check out Anastasios’s conversation with Konstantinos Kakavoulis concerning digital rights.

Siobhan Solberg: The Symphony of Privacy and Marketing
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