Harmonizing marketing and privacy: How EU organizations are developing their compliant digital marketing strategies

Harmonizing marketing and privacy: How EU organizations are developing their compliant digital marketing strategies

A survey conducted on a group of 1800 CEOs and marketing executives from across Europe

key findings

After six years of GDPR enforcement, privacy compliance is no longer an obstacle for EU companies. They have grown to feel more comfortable with the regulation, accepting it as a constant aspect affecting businesses today.

Rather than viewing privacy only as a requirement, European companies are now exploring the opportunities it brings. As we’ve observed, businesses are particularly interested in privacy-compliant marketing activities. For many of them, this means turning to technologies such as data activation and customer data platforms, and using them in a way that satisfies the demands of EU law.

We conducted a survey among 1800 CEOs and marketing executives from 27 European countries, with the majority of respondents coming from Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, to find out how they were balancing GDPR compliance and effective marketing.

First, we discovered that as many as 92.1% of respondents believe that companies must respect individuals’ online privacy. 82.4% of the group acknowledge the importance of laws like GDPR, up from 79.7% in last year’s survey.

At the same time, only 66.4% of survey participants perceive the law as easy to understand – in 2023, it was 73.7%. This suggests the need for more guidance on complying with GDPR. While regulators should ensure the legal requirements are clear, these numbers present an opportunity for others, such as martech vendors.

With increased awareness about privacy compliance today, companies are better equipped to appropriately respond and address any changes. Our survey shows that 83.6% of respondents believe companies can respect privacy laws while conducting effective marketing.

We also explored European companies’ interest in privacy-compliant marketing practices, such as first-party data strategies. Crucially, we found that 79.4% of respondents consider data activation crucial to the effectiveness of their marketing and sales efforts.

In the next parts of the report, we present a more detailed overview of the answers.

This is the third edition of our study.

Here you can find the results of the 2022 edition and the 2023 edition.

“As privacy has become mainstream, organizations have grown to accept it as a new standard. Companies realized that privacy compliance is not only necessary but potentially beneficial for their business, especially for building trust with clients. Instead of searching for workarounds or ignoring the issue, businesses have incorporated privacy into many of their core operations, which benefits the digital economy. Despite many challenges still on the horizon, the progress so far makes me optimistic about the future with more and more companies succeeding in balancing privacy compliance with effective marketing.”

Piotr Korzeniowski

CEO at Piwik PRO

Business and privacy

This part of the report focuses on EU companies’ approaches and beliefs towards online privacy and compliance and its impact on businesses today.

The results show that most companies acknowledge the necessity of respecting user privacy and complying with privacy laws. While most people recognize privacy compliance as an advantage that allows companies to conduct effective marketing, they still perceive following privacy requirements as challenging.

General views on privacy

The majority of respondents, 92.1%, believe that companies must respect the online privacy of individuals. In 2023, it was 90%, and in 2022 – only 71.2%. Only 2.4% of this year’s survey participants take the opposite view.

Companies must respect the online privacy of individuals

84.2% of respondents agree that businesses have a moral and legal obligation to respect individuals’ online privacy, a slight increase from 81% in last year’s survey.

According to our survey, 83.6% of respondents state that companies can respect privacy laws and conduct effective marketing activities at the same time. This number resembles last year’s 82.6% and stands in stark contrast to the 2022 report, where it was only 63.2%.

Companies can respect privacy laws and conduct effective marketing activities at the same time

Most respondents agreeing with this statement come from Germany (89.6%), while the number is lowest in Denmark (78.4%).

Companies can respect privacy laws and conduct effective marketing activities at the same time

82.4% of the group acknowledge the importance of laws like GDPR, 2.7% more than in 2023. This perspective is prevalent in Germany, with 90.7% of respondents in agreement. 

Almost 75% of the surveyed group thinks that respecting the online privacy of individuals has a positive impact on business and can be perceived as a business advantage.

A small fraction of respondents, 6.9%, don’t agree with this statement.

Respecting the online privacy of individuals has a positive impact on business and can be perceived as a business advantage

Approximately 70% of the respondents (compared to 73.4% in the 2023 report) perceive that respecting individuals’ online privacy is challenging for businesses. Notably, 86% of survey participants from Germany agree with the above statement. Interestingly, the number is lowest for Danish companies, at 55.7%.

Respecting the online privacy of individuals is challenging for businesses

“The majority of EU companies perceive privacy as an obligation for businesses and a necessity in today’s world. Crucially, they acknowledge that following privacy requirements doesn’t prevent businesses from making their marketing effective. However, despite GDPR celebrating its sixth anniversary, many companies still find respecting user privacy challenging. This indicates that there is still work to be done in clarifying aspects of regulations such as the GDPR and making it easier to implement privacy features. For example, analytics vendors can benefit from offering integrated consent management platforms.”

Jonas Voldbjerg Andersen

Co-founder and CSO at Cookie Information

GDPR compliance

This part of the report analyzes the main motivations of European businesses towards GDPR compliance and explores in detail how the law affects companies and their processes.

The results show that, compared to last year, fewer people admit to viewing GDPR requirements as easy to understand and implement. Most companies don’t see GDPR compliance’s positive impact on their business, but the overwhelming majority don’t perceive the effect to be negative.

Main motivations towards compliance

The study indicates that the primary factor driving companies’ compliance is building trust with consumers (69.5%), which has increased by almost 4% compared to the previous survey. Other main motivators for all countries include company values (52.0%) and legal obligations (39.7%). Only 15.6% of the respondents mentioned the risk of fines – an almost 3% increase from 2023.

What motivates you to be compliant?

This year, 66.4% of surveyed companies perceive GDPR requirements as easy to understand, while 12.7% take the opposite view. We have observed a negative shift here – last year, 73.7% of respondents agreed with this statement. On the other hand, only 38.7% of the group shared this opinion in 2022.

It’s worth noting the disparity in numbers between specific countries. For example, only 55% of respondents in the Netherlands consider GDPR requirements easy to understand. Meanwhile, the number is highest in Germany, reaching 82.4%.

GDPR requirements are easy to understand

When it comes to considering GDPR requirements easy to implement, this year, 59% of survey participants believe it to be true, while 14.3% disagree. In 2023, 62.7% of respondents agreed with that opinion, a nearly 20% increase in positive answers since the 2022 survey.

GDPR requirements are easy to implement

GDPR’s impact on EU businesses

GDPR compliance is key for users to protect their privacy rights, but how do companies view the legislation’s impact on business?

While 38.6% of participants believe that compliance with GDPR positively impacted their business, almost two-thirds (61.4%) of the group disagree. These numbers closely resemble last year’s 39.7% and 60.3%, respectively. 

Respondents whose businesses benefited from following GDPR’s requirements mention reasons such as increased trust and transparency, improved customer relations, competitive advantage, and employee trust and satisfaction.

Compliance with GDPR has positively affected my business

Compliance with GDPR has negatively affected my business

The majority (85.8%) of the respondents don’t notice a negative impact of GDPR compliance on their businesses, and the remaining 14.2% of the group do (down from 17.7% in 2023).

Companies that acknowledged GDPR’s negative impact cited, among others, high costs and effort, complexity, limitations on data processing and marketing, and challenges in data management and customer relationships.

“As business operations become more complex, privacy requirements follow, requiring companies to better understand their internal data processes and the impact of regulations. To strike a balance between compliance and effectiveness, marketing and business teams must work closely with their legal department to develop company-specific approaches. Support from regulators plays an important role here as businesses require more guidance on ways to become compliant.”

Lisette Meij

DPO at Piwik PRO

Marketing technologies and compliance

This part of the report looks into the compliance of marketing technologies used by European companies and their interest in choosing EU-based vendors over big tech competitors. 

The report shows that around 70% of people surveyed are satisfied with the compliance level of their marketing stack. The level of awareness about data collection and storage processes within the organization resembles last year – it has grown since 2022, but there is still work to be done. Most people would choose an EU marketing technology alternative to big tech products.

Marketing stack compliance

The most commonly used technologies in European companies’ marketing stacks include email automation tools (40.8%), analytics (39.8%), social media channels (39.2%) and advertising technologies (36.9%). Less popular technologies are experience optimization tools (27.3%), CMS (19.1%) and CRM (16.1%).

What does your marketing stack consist of?

In comparison, the 2023 report showed analytics as the most popular technology, reported by 46.3% of the surveyed group. The reason for that could be the sunset of Universal Analytics, and organizations still being in the process of choosing and implementing its successor. Social media channels and email automation tools were each used by 35%, while advertising technologies – by 32.7% of respondents.

There are noticeable differences in technology usage between specific countries. Analytics is most popular in the Netherlands (46%) and least popular in Denmark (32%).

Percentage of organizations using digital analytics by country

50.3% of German respondents use email automation tools, compared to only 31.7% in Denmark. Social media channels are most common in Sweden (45.7%) – on the other hand, only 32% of French survey participants use them. 

Next, we wanted to find out how aware the survey participants were about their company’s data collection processes.

Over half (56.2%) of the respondents admit that their marketing stack collects and stores personal data, down from 60% in 2023. Almost one in three (28.0%) claims their software doesn’t gather personal data. 

The remaining 15.8% of people don’t know if their marketing stack collects personal data. In 2023, this number was as low as 11%.

While last year’s number indicated growing awareness about data collection processes, showing progress from 18.6% in 2022, this year points to decreasing knowledge in this regard.

My marketing stack collects and stores personal data

Privacy requirements constantly evolve, while the data collected by companies keeps expanding and shifting between tools. To make sure that the data processes are intact, companies should review their marketing stack’s compliance.

We found out that most participants do it occasionally (33.8%), and a slightly smaller group (31.4%) performs it regularly. 16.4% of respondents say they did it once, while a marginally smaller group (15.7%) admits they’ve never done it. A minimal percentage (2.6%) is planning to do a review.

I review compliance of my marketing stack

With the GDPR legal basis for collecting marketing data, nearly half (49.8%) of the respondents use consent (55% in 2023), while a slightly smaller group (37.2%) relies on legitimate interest (26.3% in 2023). A small fraction (12.2%) of respondents don’t know the legal basis, which is up from 7.3% the previous year. The reliance on consent is highest in France and Sweden – 54.7% each. 

What GDPR legal basis do you use for marketing data collection?

Then, we wanted to find out how well the respondents know and understand their organization’s data flows in the marketing stack. Data flows refer to transferring data between different elements of the company’s stack or from the stack to a third-party technology.

The study shows that 58.3% of respondents agree with the statement, “I understand all the data flows in my marketing stack.” 56.7% of those surveyed also claim to know all the data flows in their marketing stack.

Regarding data storage, 70.7% of survey participants know where the data from their marketing stack is stored, the same as last year. The remaining 29.3% of respondents don’t know where their data is kept. 

Only 55.7% of Danish companies know the storage location, highlighting potential data management challenges.

Germany is on the other side of the spectrum, with 85.3% of the surveyed group knowing where the data is stored.

I know where all the data from my marketing stack is stored

59% of participants keep the data from their marketing stack within the European Economic Area (EEA). Meanwhile, 19.1% of the surveyed group keep data outside the EEA, down from 24.3% in 2023. On the other hand, the number of respondents who don’t have knowledge about it increased from 17.7% in 2023 to 21.9% in 2024. 

Data from my marketing stack never leaves the European Economic Area

Only 11% of Germans state that their marketing stack data leaves the EEA. Some results indicate potential issues with data compliance and jurisdiction. For example, 22% of Danish companies admit that data from their marketing stack leaves the EEA, and over 32% are unsure about this aspect. In France, 27% of those surveyed admit that data from their marketing stack leaves the EEA.

Data from my marketing stack never leaves the European Economic Area

After exploring the specific GDPR requirements, we wanted to see how content the survey participants were with their organization’s compliance.

A significant majority (70.2%) of participants are satisfied with the level of compliance of their marketing stack. Only 13.4% are dissatisfied, while 16.4% don’t have an opinion. Satisfaction levels are highest in Germany at 85.3% and lowest in Denmark (62.3%).

“We can pinpoint some changing approaches to GDPR requirements compared to last year. Particularly, more people now state that their company’s data leaves the EU or they are not sure whether it happens. We can attribute it to the new adequacy agreement allowing data transfers between the EU and the US. However, considering the agreement has received many complaints, the approach to data transfers may shift in the future.”

Dominika Gruszkiewicz

Head of Marketing at Piwik PRO

Choosing EU-based vendors over the competition

Would you choose an EU marketing technology alternative to big tech products?

When asked whether they would choose an EU marketing technology alternative to big tech products, 70.9% of respondents answered “Yes,” a slight drop from 73% reported in 2023.

Overall, we have observed a staggering increase in the interest in European marketing products from 49.8% in 2022.

The most significant factor motivating respondents to choose a European marketing platform over a big tech product is price (46.4%), which was also the leading factor last year, at that time cited by 50% of the surveyed.

Other crucial factors include local hosting (44.3%), customer support (44.1%) and feature set (36.1%). All of these closely resemble last year’s results. 

What would motivate you to choose a European marketing platform over a big tech product?

Interestingly, the least cited reason was GDPR compliance (34.6%), which grew from 30% in 2023.

Once again, our findings highlight differences between specific countries. Local hosting is the top motivating factor in the Netherlands and France. Danish and Swedish respondents cite price, while German ones focus on the feature set, which prevails over other factors for that market.

“European tech solutions have solidified their position as alternatives to big tech offerings. Additionally, privacy compliance isn’t the top motivating factor driving interest in EU-based vendors. This shows EU tech’s massive growth as companies don’t choose them for their compliance potential but rather for the business value they offer, such as features and available hosting options. EU tech vendors have evolved and can count on continued interest from companies for the overall products they offer.”

Kristian Humle Lauritsen

CPO at Piwik PRO

Data activation

This part of the report analyzes EU businesses’ views on the role of data activation and customer data platforms in their organizations, including main use cases, benefits, and challenges. Data activation is the newest addition to our report. 

We found that almost 80% of people perceive data activation as key to their marketing and sales effectiveness, and they use it for a range of purposes, particularly personalization and marketing optimization.

Data activation and GDPR

The majority of respondents – 79.4% – view data activation as crucial to the effectiveness of their marketing and sales efforts. 

Furthermore, 74.4% of all survey participants report that their organizations effectively use data for marketing and sales purposes.

Data activation is crucial to the effectiveness of my marketing/sales efforts

My organization effectively uses data for marketing/sales purposes

89% of German respondents acknowledge their organization’s effective use of data for marketing and sales purposes. This number is the lowest in Denmark (63%).

My organization effectively uses data for marketing/sales purposes

When it comes to activating data and making it usable for marketing and sales teams, companies can turn to customer data platforms (CDPs) that help organize, segment and apply the data to different activities across the business. We asked the survey participants if their organization has ever considered implementing a customer data platform (CDP), to which almost two-thirds (64.8%) of respondents said “Yes” and the remaining 35.2% responded “No”. 

Only 51% of Danish respondents considered implementing a CDP, while as many as 75.3% of German ones indicated their company’s interest in CDPs.

CDPs can combine data that companies collect through various tools. We wanted to know which sources were most commonly used for gathering marketing data. The majority of respondents cite the company website (57%) and company social media profiles (44.6%). Less popular sources include transactional systems (30.4%), company mobile apps (29.2%), and digital ad campaigns (29.1%). 

What are the sources from which you collect your marketing data?

As mentioned, data activation can be highly beneficial for a range of activities, but how do companies use it the most? The primary purposes for data activation include personalizing user experience (44.4%) and optimizing marketing efforts (43.6%). 38.1% of survey participants pointed to reaching the right audience. 

What are the main reasons for data activation in your company?

Despite many positive outcomes, merging data from disconnected sources in a CDP can bring its own share of challenges and quality issues.

Over half (51.1%) of respondents cited security and compliance as the most challenging aspects of combining data from different sources, followed by inaccurate data, highlighted by 42.6%. Other challenges include migration (33%) and duplication (24.7%). Real-time data updates are perceived as less challenging, as 19.3% of respondents indicated.

Regardless of these challenges, being able to integrate data from multiple sources is perceived as the most beneficial aspect of implementing a CDP as reported by 44.2% of the survey participants. Other primary benefits include optimizing the customer experience (38.1%), eliminating data silos (35%) and creating complete customer profiles and segmentation (34.3%). The least cited benefit is the ability to create behavioral audiences for marketing activities (17.3%).

What areas would benefit the most from implementing a CDP solution?

“Privacy requirements don’t limit companies’ ability to personalize their marketing activities. The only difference is that they need to find and implement methods and tools that let them do it in ways that respect users’ choices. Customer data platforms create unified systems based on first-party data, which can then be activated. The right types of data activation can benefit both businesses and users, as they can receive more personalized experiences.”

Kuba Bomba

CTO at Piwik PRO

About the methodology

This report is based on the answers of 1800 respondents from 27 European countries. The group consisted of CEOs and marketing executives from medium-sized and enterprise-grade companies. The most significant number of respondents came from Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Sweden, with each country accounting for 16.7% of respondents. The survey was conducted in April 2024 using the computer-assisted web interview method (CAWI).

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