Brands must reject ‘collect it all’ mentality over data

Security services’ approach to personal data is to “collect it all”, according to ongoing revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Brands must resist the temptation to do the same.

Michael

The quotation, attributed to an unnamed US security official in an article by the Washington Post, suggests spy agencies’ favoured strategy is to amass the largest possible databases and then go searching for the information they need. There’s a sense that some marketers feel compelled to follow this example, but it’s an unwise route for them to go down.

Anyone who has signed up for an account, requested a quote or paid for goods online will, at some time, have wondered whether the all the information they’re being asked for is necessary for delivering the service they require. And most marketers will probably also admit that sometimes it isn’t.

It might help the business understand its market, demand for its products and the preferences of the specific user – all things that could ultimately, arguably, help customers. But at the point at which the data is collected, its initial purpose is to help the marketer.

Most of the time, consumers seem to accept this, even if they’re often not sure what’s happening to the data – and even if controversies such as those surrounding GCHQ and the NSA, or high-profile data leaks like Sony’s in 2011, demonstrate good reasons for being more cautious. But that’s not to say marketers have carte blanche to collect what they want.

As our Data Strategy article tomorrow will discuss (7 August), brands are in danger of turning customer data into a commoditised marketplace. According to a recent report from loyalty brand Aimia, there are a couple of ways in which this could happen.

Marketers could end up collecting so much customer data that the ‘targeted’ communications generated as a result actually turn into an overwhelming flood of direct messages to consumers. Alternatively, consumers could wise up to the value of their data and tighten their control over the trading of it, demanding more in return.

A third option – which to my mind most accurately describes the current state of affairs – is that brands attempt to develop more valuable offerings from the data they hold but consumers remain confused, feeling out of control and being prone to opting in and out of data sharing. The ideal fourth scenario, where marketers consistently provide value and relevance so consumers are happy to remain loyal, seems to be fading from view, except in the case of an honourable few brands.

Regaining paradise – or option four – won’t just be down to brands showing restraint in the volumes of data-driven marketing they produce, it will also depend on consumers appreciating added-value service above unsustainable discount offers. But marketers must make the first move, and that means they must dare to be different.

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Regular readers of this column will know that I am sceptical of the role of social media in a business environment. While I understand the role it can play in business to consumer communications, with the likes of TripAdvisor building a successful business off the back of it, I’m not convinced of its value in the business to business world.

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