How O2 has built new businesses out of personal data

Making its marketing director responsible for data innovation – as well as regulation – has enabled O2 to develop new services that create value for customers from their personal data.


O2 is making concerted efforts to build new products and services for customers based on new ways of utilising personal data, the brand revealed today (29 September) at the Ctrl-Shift Personal Information Economy conference in London.

A number of business initiatives have already gone live over the past year and according to the brand’s data innovation and privacy officer Dan Bates, this has been made possible by incorporating the business’s data function into the remit of marketing, which is led by marketing and consumer director Nina Bibby. Doing so allows O2 to “align data ambitions to commercial objectives”, said Bates.

The new ventures are examples of what some in the data industry refer to as ‘me2B’ brands, which unlike B2B and B2C models are premised on two-way communications channels between consumers and businesses. Bates said this is inextricably linked with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will give consumers the right to access and use their personal data held by companies.

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Placing both responsibilities within one programme under the remit of marketing means making me2B offerings a reality “is going to happen, because [compliance with] GDPR has to happen”, according to Bates.

Examples of initiatives recently developed through these efforts include:

O2 Travel Alerts: reducing credit card fraud

In partnership with credit card company MBNA, O2 has trialled using mobile phone location data to help cut down overseas card fraud, which rose by 23% between 2014 and 2015, according to O2 managing director of digital commerce Robert Franks, who is responsible for new digital business opportunities.

MBNA cardholders who are also O2 mobile customers opt into the Travel Alerts service, which identifies in real time whether their phone is in the same location as their credit card when an overseas transaction is made. If it is, the transaction is allowed to go through. If not, it is either blocked or becomes subject to further checks.

The alerts have so far been trialled with 3,000 MBNA customers. According to Franks, no data is shared with the financial institution and it is immediately deleted after the checks take place, which “enables the benefit to be realised without compromising people’s privacy”.

O2 Drive: rewarding young car insurance customers

In response to young drivers’ difficulty getting affordable car insurance, O2 has developed an app that gives these consumers a competitive quote in exchange for sharing their driving data, collected via smartphone sensors such as GPS. It also provides content around around car servicing and maintenance, advice for improving driving, and ongoing rewards.

The app has been live for 10 months, and the service is set to be extended to a ‘black box’ telematics device, which will communicate more detailed data to O2 about how safe the customer’s driving style is.

NSPCC partnership: keeping children safe online

In partnership with the children’s charity, O2 has developed a service to “help parents have conversations with children” about what they share online, with the aim of helping them to protect their personal data and general safety. Via O2’s online hub, customers can also donate to NSPCC and contact its ‘Gurus’ about how to set up parental controls on devices. Gurus are customer service staff who offer independent, personalised advice around digital devices, which is not incentivised on sales.

Franks said O2 has so far had online contact with 4.6 million parents through the NSPCC scheme, 87% of whom have had or will have a conversation with their children about online safety, according to research. O2 aims to double the number of contacts in the next two months.

READ MORE: Marketers ‘just as reluctant’ as consumers to share their data with brands

O2’s approach to entering these new business areas at the same time as preserving customers’ privacy has required a delicate balance, given that the marketing department is responsible both for driving growth through innovation and ensuring data compliance. For businesses thinking of combining the two within marketing in this way, Bates advised that in order to define the boundaries of what marketers can do, early on in the process the marketing director must “make a big decision, and make it against marketing”, as happened at O2.

Yet, within those limits, O2 will continue to trial more services in different areas, as it aims to demonstrate the value that consumers can gain from using their personal data within brands’ offerings.