For direct marketers, 2014 is about avoiding data minefields

Direct marketers start 2014 as they started 2013. They still face the challenge of how to segment and target, how to personalise and to optimise. They still need work out how to harness the dizzying panoply of data available. What will be new to some and an even bigger deal for others in 2014 is: “How do we avoid pissing people off?”

Russell Parsons

There are a couple of statutory considerations that will put the issue front and centre in 2014. New requirements on consent will be stipulated in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, if the European Parliament elections in May do not cause delay. At home, the Government is expected to decide whether to force take-up of its midata initiative, which asks brands to provide consumers instant digital access to data collected for marketing purposes.

Both, however, are cases of regulation catching up with the new reality. Customers want to know companies are playing fair when it comes to data capture and use. Increasingly, there are signs that customers are becoming less accepting of those brands that play fast and loose and will begin to punish those that they believe overstep the mark.

The story last week that Facebook is to be sued for allegedly scanning users’ private messaging data to share it with marketers so they can better target their ads on the site is indicative of a wider sentiment. Whatever the outcome the publicity this case received illustrates the depth and scope of the public at large’s scepticism.

A report by business consultants EY underlines this. The poll of 2,000 consumers found a deep-seated reluctance to share data with brands. Just a quarter (26 per cent) would be happy to share personal details with their energy provider, while just over 32 per cent would be happy to share their data with financial institutions and only 20 per cent with supermarkets. This is relatively low when compared with the 55 per cent willing to share data with public sector bodies.

For social networks and other online media, the news is worse. Just 8 per cent of consumers feel comfortable sharing their personal information with social networks, only 7 per cent with search engines and 5 per cent with mobile apps.

This should be sobering to direct marketers. There is already an appreciation among many brands. Unilever, for example, said last year it was overhauling its approach to communicating privacy policies to make them more understandable and assure customers it is not “surreptitiously mining” their personal details.

More need to follow the lead. Thinking about and dealing with legitimate concerns at planning and execution stage as well as maintaining high levels of transparency is key. It is unlikely a customer would be less likely to trust a brand because they are saying too much, more likely if they say the bare minimum.

Don’t wait for the regulators. Start now and start big.

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