The Age of Privacy: How to Market in a World Without Data

Esther Cohen
Esther Cohen May 4, 2021 6 min read

Privacy concerns and upcoming regulations mean that marketers will have to sell without adequate data. Our new post discusses some workarounds.

The 21st century has been the Age of Data. Thanks to the internet, we’ve created, consumed, and analyzed more data than ever before. An entire generation of marketers has come of age assuming the availability of data as a given fact.

That may be about to change.

Increasing privacy concerns, data protection regulations, and software changes mean that the data faucet might slow down to a trickle in the coming decade.

As a marketer, you have to get ready for this new reality. Where once you had more data than you could possibly use, you might have to rely more on interviews, surveys, and old-school marketing “gut feel”.

In this post, we’ll talk about the coming “data drought” and how to retool your marketing approach for it. You’ll learn:

  • How perceptions towards data privacy are changing
  • How accepting imprecision can help you create better campaigns
  • Why transparency and trust are the keys to marketing without data
  • How to use earned media to overcome the lack of user data


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Into the Age of Data Privacy

For a lot of marketers, access to data isn’t something they think too much about.

After all, cookies have been ubiquitous for years, and getting app permissions isn’t particularly complicated either.

But this reality is changing fast.

Consider this: “By 2023, 65% of the world’s population will have its personal information covered under modern privacy regulations, up from 10% today.

Legislation like the European GDPR was just a preview of the shape of things to come. Similar laws are coming up across the world, from Brazil’s LGPD to California’s CCPA.

The legislation is a response to increasing consumer concerns about their privacy. According to a Pew Research survey, most Americans are not confident about businesses not misusing their private data.

Outside of the omnipresent GDPR notifications on European websites, we’ve already seen these concerns play out in the increasing adoption of ad blocking tools. Globally, ad blockers are estimated to penetrate 27% of the desktop market, forcing advertisers to find new ways to reach out to their target audience.

Perhaps the clearest indication of this new Age of Privacy is Apple’s new stance towards app permissions and tracking in the latest iOS update. The new iOS 14.5 update makes it much clearer when apps are trying to track your behavior. It also includes better data to help consumers make informed decisions about the apps they use regularly.

Ergo, the indiscriminate tracking and abuse of app permissions will be on the way out - at least for Apple iOS users. Expect Android to follow suit, otherwise Apple will have the sole claim to “privacy-first”.

All of this combined has created a perfect catalyst for the impending Age of Privacy. As the 2020s progress, you’ll find that tracking users is harder than ever, and that you’ll need a great deal of effort to get your message to your target audience.

This means you might have to change your marketing approach altogether. If you were relying heavily on cookies to yield valuable insights, you’ll now have to focus more on intuition and testing. And if you were using third-party data, you’ll now have to start collecting your own. 

In the next section, I’ll share some tactics you can adopt to navigate this new age without losing your marketing edge.


Marketing Without Data

Marketing without data isn’t something new - every marketer did it before the digital age. The Don Draperesque Mad Men of the 1960s created bestselling campaigns with little more than some market research and half-hearted surveys.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to start wearing suits to work and smoke in your office, but know that marketing without data can be done - very successfully.

Here are some ways to go about it:


Recognize the Opportunity

The loss of free access to private data is a tragedy for most marketers.

For some, however, it's an opportunity.

If consumer sentiment is moving firmly in favor of data privacy, any business that positions itself as privacy-friendly can earn the trust of consumers quickly.

Take Apple as an example. Apple saw the current privacy-focused trend early and actively positioned itself as a privacy-first company. It explicitly sold its iPhones as more secure, safe, and privacy-focused compared to its competitors.


This Apple ad from the 2019 CES was a sign of things to come (Image source)


In the age of data privacy, businesses that are seen as laggards in implementing privacy-focused policies, or getting by with the bare minimum regulatory requirements can risk losing their customers’ trust.

Instead of waiting for regulations and consumer sentiment to shift even more radically, you can gain an edge by adopting privacy-friendly policies right away.

  • Audit your data: Remove any data source that is not particularly useful and is excessively intrusive. And once you do that, inform your customers about it - they will appreciate your honesty.
  • Adopt privacy policies before legally necessary: Regulations will come sooner or later. But if you adopt privacy-focused policies earlier than required by law, you can come across as forward thinking and trustworthy.

Perhaps the best step you can take is to weave data privacy into the core of your business. Make it a mission to secure your customers’ data securely. Change or even remove products and services that infringe on data privacy. You can even consider appointing a dedicated data privacy officer - mandated by law in European Union as per GDPR - to ensure safe data storage and handling.

Your goal should be to make data privacy a core business ethos, not just an afterthought. The trust you earn will be far greater than any eventual gaps in customer data.


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Be Transparent - and Give Back Control

In the Pew Research survey I shared earlier, most respondents said that they felt they had too little control over what and how much they share.

While they are understandably concerned about excessive tracking and data misuse, they are also upset at how little control they have over the entire situation.

The truth is that most customers are okay handling data if:

  1. They trust the organization asking for it
  2. They know how that data will be used
  3. They have control over what they share

We covered #1 earlier - if you position yourself as a privacy-focused business, you’ll find that customers are more likely to trust you with their data.

For #2 and #3, your approach should be radical transparency and complete control. 

When you’re collecting data, state explicitly:

  • What data you need and why it’s necessary
  • How you will store and share the data
  • How customers can erase the data if necessary

As an eMarketer survey found out, most customers will happily share their data if they know how it will be used. 

For example, you might have a personalization campaign that requires collecting user data. If you simply tell users that you need to collect data to enable their favorite personalization features, you’ll find that they’re happy to share things with you.

By embracing transparency and giving control back to consumers, you give them the trust necessary to share their data with you. 

Adopt this approach and you won’t even have to worry about the drying up of the data faucet.


Don’t Demand Attention - Earn It

So much of the debate around data privacy gets lost in the fact that you shouldn’t need data in the first place!

Whatever you might want to call it - permission marketing, earned media - has been around since the birth of the internet. This marketing approach doesn’t require a steady stream of data - all it needs is permission to share the customers’ mindspace. 

An email newsletter is the perfect example. If you can share valuable content, you earn the right to be in the customer’s inbox. Share enough valuable content and they will even be happy to share their data with you.

The fact that earned media platforms such as Medium and Substack are thriving right when “push” media platforms are struggling is proof enough that this approach works. If you can earn the attention of your customers, you don’t need to mine data - customers will give it to you, willingly.


Accept Imprecision

Despite all your efforts, there will inevitably be some gaps in your data. As more and more customers block cookies, switch off app permissions and embrace privacy-first mediums, you will have less data to go around.

This isn’t the catastrophe you think it is.

Data has been used as a crutch by digital marketers, but it isn’t necessary to get the job done. Entire generations of marketers worked with far less data (often, no data) and still achieved spectacular results.

Data can help you create more precise campaigns, but it can’t be a substitute for creativity and empathy. Truly understanding your audience and creating something uniquely tailored to their triggers still goes further than perfecting 1000 unique Facebook audiences.

Does this legendary campaign really need precise audience targeting?

In the absence of precise data, you have to rely on subjective data - interviews, surveys, etc. Simply sitting down with your target audience can yield more insight than any data collection campaign.

Remember that data was meant to be a tool, not the tool. Your best bet remains intuition, empathy, and creativity.


Over to You

As the pool of available data continues to shrink, you will have to rely on alternative sources of insight. By frontrunning your competitors and embracing privacy, you can set up a strong foundation of trustworthiness.

Combine this trust with transparency and you will find that customers are happy to share data with you by themselves. Pivot to earned media, improve your creative collateral, and you won’t even realize that you’re missing crucial data.

While getting data from customers is important, you don’t want to miss out on your internal data. With Workamajig’s agency-focused management tool, you can have access to accurate and updated internal data at all times.

See it for yourself - click the button below to schedule a free demo right away!

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About The Author

Esther Cohen

Esther Cohen

Esther, Workamajig’s current Marketing Manager, joined the team back in ‘14. She's a Jersey girl at heart with plenty of NY grit from her time across the river. Like most credentialed marketing gals, she’s always got a good cup of coffee and would love to hear from you at


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