Major companies like Unilever are already in advanced stages of preparation for a time when consumers’ data is held personally, not by large third parties like Facebook. Such a move would mark a tectonic shift in how global brands reach their audiences – and the smart money is making plans based on ‘when’, not ‘if’.

Last week I attended Ctrl-Shift’s Personal Information Economy (PIE 2015) conference in London. I was a believer in this fledgling industry’s potential before I attended (you can read my last blog on the topic here), but the event really underlined for me the urgency with which it is being treated by world-leading brands.

The high profile attendee list included senior individuals from Unilever, SAP, Facebook, O2, and even the European Union, amongst many other interesting parties. The broad church of attendees reflected the variety of possible applications that personal data management may have for corporate and political entities. The most interesting discussion, however, revolved around the opportunity to access consumer data directly rather than via providers like Facebook.

Shawn O’Neal is Vice President of Global Data and Marketing Analytics at Unilever, and he made it clear that the company was making concrete plans for advertising in a ‘post-Facebook’ marketing environment. He outlined three reasons the company is expecting such a world:

  1. Legislation: global privacy and data protection regulation is expected to get tighter and tighter in the coming years, making it harder for apps and services to track their users in the detail demanded by marketers.
  2. Anxiety: consumers are increasingly paranoid about data breaches and privacy, so are becoming more and more likely to opt-out of tracking and data collection.
  3. Ad blocking: this is the biggest concern for major brands, as hundreds of millions of consumers are blocking adverts entirely, and the propensity to do so is highest in young consumers.

These are all pushing towards a situation in which the digital advertising of major brands will become increasingly ineffective. Ad supported business models will have to change, and Shawn suggested this is coming sooner than people think. His comments at PIE 2015 were also covered by Marketing Week.

Aside from this major brand input, the other great benefit of the conference was meeting representatives of many of the start-ups and small businesses that are driving innovation in this sector. One such venture was very much the star of show; our friends at were the hot topic of conversation as leaders in this growing space, getting name-dropped by both Unilever and Facebook.

If you are interested in getting involved in this growing space, I’d be happy to make introductions to several interesting parties. Drop me a line using the details by my picture, above.