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Preference centre: the future cornerstone of the ad experience

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Privacy is not the only area where brands are contractually bound to their audience. The time has come to think about taking a much more holistic approach to managing user preferences with the aim of taking just as much care over the ad experience as first-party data.

When it comes to managing user preferences, the experience while browsing the web reveals a strange paradox that we have all come across – or rather suffered.

On the one hand, users are constantly bombarded with notifications, meaning that they have to get through an obstacle course to access the required content, such as accepting or declining different categories of cookies, seeing push notifications in their browser and being prompted to sign up for a newsletter. Sometimes it takes a great deal of determination and willpower to reach a site.

On the other hand, current privacy centres are often restricted to a detailed view of the different categories of cookies that users are required to accept or decline, or are even limited to letting users subscribe or unsubscribe from newsletters. Basically, this page is primarily seen as an area for managing the user’s confidentiality settings, but this view falls rather short in light of what has happened to digital technologies in 2020…

From privacy centres to preference centres

There has been an increase in the number of devices and especially communication channels, including text messages, WhatsApp-type apps, social networks and emails, without forgetting call centres and paper catalogues. The bottom line is that brands today are spoilt for choice when looking to reach out to their audience. You need a crystal ball to identify which channel is best suited to a given individual, and you also need to be extremely agile to align with that preference.

That is why it is high time to reinvent the privacy centre and treat it more as a preference centre, like a cockpit where users can define which personal data the company is allowed to collect, as well as their preferred communication channels and, if we go all the way, their preferred content and services.

How far should we go when letting users define their preferences?

 The aim with a preference centre is only too clear: reduce the amount of different notifications spamming users’ screens and thereby prevent them from refusing everything and installing ad blockers, while removing silos in the preference management process. Although the intention is easily understandable, it raises two very tangible questions.

The first question is how much detail should users see? For example, should it be a matter of choosing the types of messages, so that brands have the necessary justification to retarget their audience over the social networks? What about setting the cap for advertising campaigns? There is an overwhelming temptation to answer: “It’s down to each brand to determine how detailed their preferences are.” That is all very well, but experience has shown that user uptake will typically be higher when the same level of granularity is offered across the board…

What about the scenario for the preference centre?

The second question is where should those preferences be managed (and stored)? At the present time, each type of preference is managed in a specific tool that the preference centre defines as a repository, meaning a database where all user preferences will be stored. But the type of repository still needs to be determined. Should it be an outsourced and multi-brand third-party solution? At a time when GDPR requirements are only partially applied, this approach would seem to lead straight to a world of complexity…

Another prospect is an insourced solution (provided by a third party, but housed on the company’s premises), meaning that only one brand is involved. Quite frankly, at Commanders Act we believe that the second approach is more pragmatic for at least two reasons.

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Why should you go down the single-brand and insourced road?

#1 A technical reason

Since a preference centre aims to come across to users as a single place where they can contractually define their interactions with the brand, the preference repository resembles a database that needs to power the entire information system. A major change is that with privacy, information remains attached to the browser through cookies, whereas information needs to circulate with a global approach to managing preferences.

Customer Data Platforms, CRMs, marketing automation solutions, call centres… all the components that are likely to interact with prospects and customers must be capable of communicating with the repository in order to determine the rights for a given user. This type of integration is necessarily technical, sensitive (in light of the data contained) and therefore easier to manage with a dedicated, insourced repository. That is why Commanders Act has taken steps to offer a range of APIs based on TrustCommander, its CMP (Consent Management Platform). Our aim is clearly to simplify integration with a repository of user preferences.

#2 A matter of sovereignty

Technology is not the only good reason in our eyes for heading down the road towards an insourced and dedicated solution. If the preference centre is allowed to go the whole way, it could be used to identify and log users. Identification and the resulting knowledge represent a fundamental asset for the brand. Such first-party data must be preciously safeguarded.

That is why it is in a brand’s best interest to be as up-front as possible about the “contract” offered in the preference centre. The objective is to give users an exhaustive and overarching insight into the data collected and the terms for interaction in return for the brand’s commitment to use those data respectfully. What that means is that data are used in a coherent and legitimate manner in line with the brand’s field of action and the needs of its audience.

Therefore, the preference centre is not only an extension of the privacy centre. It is looking like both a cornerstone of the ad experience and a guardian angel of our precious data.

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