Digital networked society: New cookies law reminds direct marketers to understand and respect data trails


By: Danny Meadows-Klue

Twenty years ago direct marketing focussed on postal mail and print adverts. As direct response TV grew, another channel was added within the framework of the discipline. The direct marketing skillset grew into a core discipline in digital marketing, and as new laws on privacy and the use of cookies arrive in the UK, Danny Meadows-Klue reflects that direct marketers need to be going further than the new legal framework if they’re to maintain the trust of their consumers.

The tools in today’s world of DM are unrecognisably broad, but the good business practice for maintaining customer trust may feel very familiar. With digital marketing mainstream in cultures from the largest multi-nationals to smallest SMEs, a new lease of life has been unlocked for direct marketing. And with the traditional DM skills sets have let a new generation of marketers leap forwards.

In digital marketing, two particular disciplines of direct have undergone rapid acceleration: testing and data profiling. The direct marketer’s discipline and focus made for a natural fit with digital marketing. Testing different copy and formats - A/B split run tests - are part of the daily digital routine from email subject lines to website navigation. The simple tests have evolved into complex multivariate testing with cookies usually allowing tests to happen with no awareness to the user. Get it right and the uplift on sales and ROI is staggering; creating an accountable marketing culture and an ever-improving marketing engine. Direct marketing has gained new life in digital.

The second skillset is data profiling. The world of data is unrecognisable from 20 years ago. No longer do marketers need to know the demographics or postal address if the sales leads on a website is a pre-qualified buyer. Lead generation tools from Google AdWords to online affiliate networks can deliver anonymous clicks, with a strong propensity to buy and a readiness to impart their data as they do. The buyers are in control, and the direct marketers’ craft is to tempt them to listen.

The nature of identity too is evolving as tools like Facebook, Linked-In and RenRen see hundreds of millions of people open up their most personal of details to anyone with a web connection. The marketing engines behind these platforms allow the targeting of advertising in ways triggered by the very language each individual uses to describe themselves: If it’s female Manchester United fans living in London that you’re after, then there’s now a way to find (just) them. Data profiling has become immensely richer in the data at its disposal, with a growing sector of data augmentation allowing marketers to build out detailed customer profiles from just the simplest fragments of data.

Similarly customer insight has leapt forwards. Predictive modelling techniques can deliver real-time results and decision making based on what your customer did online a second ago. The profiling of today in an Amazon-generation knows that ‘people who like this, also like this’, and the source of these data fragments are aplenty. From the things people tell search engines, to the subjectlines of emails that get opened, to the clickpaths through an online store. Propensity modelling and realtime decision making is the new home for direct marketers. The breadth of this data and the richness of the processing is advancing fast, and as the fixed internet fuses with mobile location data, a new era of direct marketing is being unlocked.

Consumers leave fragmented data trails everywhere: IP addresses, cookies, cellphone locations, email responses, tweets and social media posts. Often without realising it, and almost always with scant regard for their meaning, the digital networked society is rich in data for anyone with the tools and rights to be able to look.

The latest laws to land on the use of third party cookies are simply another way to tackle what is a growing problem of data misuse.

Smart firms are keeping close to the ethics as well as the laws around this, not just because they fear falling the wrong side of the law. They know the power base has shifted to consumers, and any firm not honest and open about its dealings has a world of social media reprisals to fear. Effective data protection isn’t just keeping to the law; it’s keeping a spirit of transparency and fairness in everything you do.

The number of digital marketing tools will continue to proliferate, but the principles of good business practice in the digital networked society are now firmly grounded. Self-regulation reinforces these principles, and as channels evolve, the frameworks for supporting their use keep pace. But when the technology is moving this fast, every director needs to check their own marketing and legal teams have kept pace too.

Danny Meadows-Klue is a one of the Commissioners for the marketing industry’s regulation as a member of the Direct Marketing Commission with special responsibility for digital channels. He has been coaching firms in digital marketing for over 15 years. More than 45,000 people have attended his talks and courses in over 30 countries. He set up and ran the UK and European IAB trade associations for almost 10 years, was the pioneering publisher of, held the Vice Presidency of NBC’s European internet business, and has been a government policy advisor in the UK. He is chairman of the Digital Training Academy that coaches marketing teams to improve their ROI and founder of the Digital Strategy Consulting practice that creates internet marketing strategies for brands. He is also the publisher of Netimperative and Digital Intelligence. He now coaches management teams, helping them accelerate their businesses and transform their organizations. Contact him on or

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