The Road to Brandweek: 23andMe’s Tracy Keim on Prioritizing Privacy and ‘Consumer Obsession’

Keim believes that constant consumer feedback 'is a great thing'

headshot of tracy kleim
Tracy Keim is keenly aware of consumers' concern about privacy at 23andMe. 23andMe
Headshot of Diana Pearl

DNA tests no longer seem like something out of a science textbook—and that’s thanks in large part to companies like 23andMe, which have brought DNA test technology into people’s homes, giving them a deeper look at their genetic makeup and ancestry with just a bit of saliva in a tube.

But sharing your DNA with a corporation brings with it many questions, particularly in today’s era of constant consumer chatter about data privacy. Ahead of Adweek’s annual Brandweek event, taking place Nov. 3-6 in Palm Springs, Calif., we talked with Brandweek speaker Tracy Keim, the vice president of consumer marketing and brand at 23andMe, about how she’s tackling customer privacy, the company’s rapid growth and more.

How do you navigate your marketing and advertising in the age of rapid consumer feedback?
We are in service of the consumer, so feedback that is good or bad—and constantly coming in—is a great thing. How our team distills that feedback into insights and action is critical.

Our Customer Care team has an incredible pulse and expertise on the consumer; our Customer Stories team listens to customers each day and tracks themes in the consumer journey; and our Market Insights team continues to dig deep into the motivation behind the feedback. And then, of course, there’s social media, which is a real-time feed into the daily experience of our customers and the consumer. So, I believe navigating advertising and marketing in this age really requires a consumer obsession across many departments.

What is the biggest buzzword in the industry today and how is your company preparing for it?
The biggest buzzword in the industry today is privacy, and our company is preparing for it with transparency. Respect for our customers’ privacy and transparency are the core principles that guide our approach to maintaining customer trust.

What’s one important thing about your brand that you wish more consumers knew?
I love this question. I wish more consumers knew they have all the power and control when it comes to their 23andMe experience. They consent. They choose to view certain reports. They choose to participate in research. Our brand is about them, not us. I often use ruby slippers as the analogy to explain to people that your DNA is yours—you always had the power in you all along. It’s one of the many ways we approach brand trust with our customers.

What is the biggest change that your company or industry has had to contend with in the last two years?
For the company, growth. The ancestry side of the business exploded in 2017. We went from being asked, “Are you a Michael Jordan company?” in 2013 to “I’ve done a 23andMe DNA test” with more than 10 million kits sold worldwide.

The industry has also grown exponentially, and it is constantly changing as technology advances, science gets more sophisticated and costs come down. The category will always face a lot of change, and I don’t see it stopping. The regulation of this industry will be important; making sure credible, clinically valid science is presented to the consumer. In the last two years, all of this hyper-growth allowed for many brands to enter the space without regulation. We are the only brand authorized by the FDA (yes, that’s my plug), but, really, it’s critical to make sure consumers have a product they can trust—otherwise it will hurt the entire category.

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.