MRM//McCann CMO Marcy Quinn Samet: How Brands Can Balance Data Privacy And The Need For Personalization

'The old days of giving your information away simply to get a certain discount may not be working anymore,' Samet explained in a conversation at Cannes Lions.

With the implementation of GDPR, marketers have had to reevaluate their data and privacy policies — and as a result, how to balance security needs with consumers’ increasing desires for personalization and relevancy has become the million-dollar question.

In a conversation at Cannes Lions, Global CMO of MRM//McCann Marcy Quinn Samet shared her strategy for approaching the topic — and how that translates to McCann’s work with brands from Coca-Cola to USPS.

“At McCann, our goal is to help clients to be very transparent,” Samet said. “And that might mean deciding to say,  ‘let’s not personalize the first experience, but maybe let’s personalize the fourth.’ There absolutely has to be a contextual way of doing it; the trust has to be established first.”

GeoMarketing: Transparency and data privacy are hot topics at Cannes this year. How are you handling those challenges around data privacy — and then balancing that with the fact that there is a consumer expectation for personalization? How does that impact your advertising work for the brands you serve?

Marcy Quinn Samet: I just read a statistic  — I believe it’s from Forrester — that said that almost 95 percent of people would give up some of their information to have an easier experience.

But the question is, how and why? I think that companies have to be very transparent — not necessarily on just a “privacy policy,” but on privacy as part of who their brand is. If you truly trust a brand with your information, then you’re going to be more willing to give your information.

From there, I think it’s about which category. Essentially, what’s the value exchange? For example, in health, we’re seeing a lot of privacy implemented, and we’re seeing great exchange of data as a result. I think that the old days of giving your information away simply to get a certain discount may not be working anymore.

At McCann, our goal is to help clients to be very transparent. And that might mean deciding to say,  “let’s not personalize the first experience, but maybe let’s personalize the fourth.” There absolutely has to be a contextual way of doing it; the trust has to be established first.

We’re part of that. We have to be responsible so that people don’t think we’re creeping them out and capturing their data. Then I think it’s all contextual — serving up the right information [that] makes for a better experience over a longer period of time.

Speaking of using technology to build those successful connections, let’s talk about the Operation Santa campaign. How did the letters from Santa aspect work, and what was the brand tie-in? 

The brand tie-in was USPS.

Letters from Santa was really amazing. It involves using technology to answer back [children’s] letters to Santa.

We actually started reading these letters from children, and they were gut wrenching; this wasn’t about wanting a new three-wheeler. So we said, “how do we use data and technology to help do better in this world, and to help give these kids who are struggling a good holiday?” That was a great example of using technology that can scan a letter, then can actually respond back to that child, and that way privacy is embraced. The idea is, “I wrote to Santa. Santa is writing me back.” We don’t get involved saying actually it’s to MRM//McCann writing you back.

And it’s USPS that is taking that on, delivering letters from Santa. They’ve been doing amazing work. They’re one of the oldest non-technology companies, but they’ve actually been doing data and innovation work forever. And actually, what we’ve found is that, today, because everything is so digitized, people love to receive a handwritten letter. It’s special.

I see USPS as a client of ours that is really looking at human needs. Actually, too, we are now testing voice-activated mailboxes around the country with them.

That’s fascinating. How does the voice-activation technology work?

Well, we’ve all seen blue postal boxes on every corner in America. Now, [the goal is to] put AI boxes on each one. The idea is to make your voice your stamp. You download the USPS app, and you can add voice authentification. That voice stamp becomes connected to your origin address and your payment method.

Once that’s set up, you can walk up to any implemented AI box and say, “I’d like to mail this to Marcy Samet at 6 Ellsworth Drive.” They tell you it’s forty cents. It goes right to your credit card, which is on your app.

This was actually the CAM innovation winner last year, and it’s being beta tested [in the real world] now.

What’s the tech behind the voice activated mailbox? Who is driving the voice AI?

We have a studio, and it was actually created in the lab. We are in-house prototyping, but it does use Microsoft AI.

In terms of driving more innovation like this, what have you seen at Cannes Lions this year that has inspired you? What will you take back and implement in your work at McCann?

We talk about diversity and inclusion being so important to us, but I don’t think you can truly understand that by just sitting in an office. So the fact that I get to travel around to all different cultures to understand business, different customs, how people think — I think that’s number one. The job has helped me actually practice what we preach.

I think from a diversity and inclusion standpoint, one of the biggest obstacles is simply making sure that you’re getting the right people to interview — even just coming in the door. Agencies have notoriously been bad at that. A big part [of diversity] should be about how we recruit.

In terms of thinking about takeaways for our clients: Number one, I think we owe them diversity of ideas. And I think the “diversity of the ideas” should not necessarily be overtaken by the hottest thing at this moment. I think clients grab onto, “should I be doing AR? Should I be doing VR? What should I do?”

Instead of focusing on what’s hot, the real question to ask is, “what is your strategy, and what is authentic to you as a brand?” I think that’s the hardest thing to get clients to understand, because they’re always chasing what they read here is the hottest thing. And maybe that is right for them, or right for them a year from now — or maybe not. Essentially, we’re looking at technologies for our clients that build more meaningful relationships.

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Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.