Russell Parsons: The spate of data hacks highlights unease over data capture and use

The rise of big data in the noughties opened up a world of untold opportunities for marketers. Driven by people’s enthusiasm to document their lives online and their relative naivety in offering personal information, brands made hay.

Russell Parsons

Although the volume of personal information volunteered and the sheer weight of available observed data waiting to be captured requires interpretation and extraction, the opportunity to target in ever more sophisticated ways must be mind blowing for marketers, particularly those of a certain vintage used to feeding off scraps.

The opportunities remain great. The consequences of getting it horribly wrong, however, are even greater. News of the theft of TalkTalk customers’ private data last month had nothing to do with its marketers but is a natural consequence of the data age.

The scandal will not torpedo TalkTalk, in the same way as it will not dating site Ashley Madison and didn’t Sony when its PlayStation network was hacked in 2011. But it does contribute to the growing sense of unease over the data capture and use.

The backlash has already begun, as is evidenced by the increasing popularity of ad blocking software and consumers providing ‘dirty data’ – knowingly false information to put marketers off the scent – and increasing awareness of the value of customer data. Elsewhere, a report by Aimia last week found 86% of consumers want to exercise greater control over the data companies hold about them.

This is not a hyperbolic warning of a tipping point but sober reflection is needed by brands before one is reached. There was talk of marketing Armageddon in 2011 when the European Union unveiled its draft General Data Protection Regulation. Four years on and measures designed to put individuals back in control of their data, such as the stipulation that brands must receive explicit consent before they use a customer’s data for marketing, seem to me to be the minimum standard brands should be aspiring to.

Insight and then marketing activity borne from data capture needs to surprise, delight and enhance somebody’s experience of your brand. If it doesn’t, and even worse whiffs of dishonesty, it will not only be a waste of money and effort, it runs the risk of leaving customers permanently cold to your brand.

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