Data: Is the juice worth the squeeze?

The battle about data has reached a stalemate.

Passionate defenders point to the many positive impacts data has on our quality of life, whilst others trumpet a “1984 meets Minority Report” scenario, where data is exploited and misused, compromising national and corporate security and citizen privacy and rights.

The reality, of course, is somewhere in the middle. Data provides wonderful benefits but can create huge problems so it’s time to move beyond the “good/bad” argument to a pragmatic way of judging how best to use it. 

To do this requires turning the focus to carefully manage both the upside and downside – in other words, successfully judging ‘value’ versus ‘risk’. 

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Back in the so-called Golden Age of TV, publishers, channels, advertisers and consumers all got acceptable value from a stable media model. “No soap ad, no soap opera”.  It was simple, and it worked well. 

Today, the dramatic growth in the application of data, from rear-view, then real-time, to prediction and beyond, has entirely revolutionised the way we think about, practice and evaluate marketing.

With that shift, an entirely new consideration has come into play. Where before, value was either delivered or it wasn’t, we succeeded or we failed. Now, every time we call on data to add value to a product, a service, a campaign or a customer communication of any kind, we also introduce a new problem. 

The more data we use, the more we expose both the owners and users of that data to risk. We’re still getting used to this. The technology is currently streaking ahead of our ability to fully grasp and respond to the impacts and implications. It’s the effect of this “data shock” that so polarises opinion. 

What Nike and Target teach us

While celebrating 25 years of its iconic “Just Do It” branding, Nike announced that 18 million people globally were using its fitness tracker, Nike+. 

Let’s look at the value. Nike+ takes the gritty blow-by-blow of a sweaty run and turns it into a beautifully envisioned – also highly shareable – narrative of ongoing personal transformation. Enormous consumer value without, as far as we know to date, any exposure of the 18 million users to security or privacy breaches.

In contrast, US retail giant Target confirmed hackers had infected the company’s payment-card readers, stealing 40 million card numbers used during a post-Thanksgiving shopping surge. Two months later, contact information for 70 million customers was also compromised.

An enormous and direct compromise of privacy and security affecting up to 110 million people, resulting in angry and frightened shoppers left feeling fundamentally violated. Not to mention the various field days had by advocacy groups and the media alike.

Don’t fall in the trap

The easy and tempting trap here is to make data either the benign benefactor, in Nike’s case, or the dirty culprit (Bad Data!) in Target’s. Neither is useful or correct. 

The data revolution has radically disrupted and sharply increased both value and risk for everyone but the finger needs to be pointed at the brands’ ability to control it. Learning to deal with the tension between this abrupt and remarkable change is the new art and science of marketing. 

Take Google’s fast-evolving “Now” notifications service which offers timely and personalised recommendations based on a deeper harvesting of consumer data. It may delight some Android users but the potential intrusion is already a big privacy debate.

In exactly the same vein, Apple is reported to have filed a patent for an ad-serving technology which can target offers based on users’ available personal credit. In essence, ‘If you can afford it, we’ll sell it to you. If not, you won’t see it at all.’

So, what should marketers do?

The first step is the comprehensive assessment of exactly how you balance reward against risk in any situation where you are the custodian of data which impacts the privacy and security of an individual or organisation. 

The second may be making organisational changes to reduce risk. For example, understanding the ecosystem of suppliers who can access your customer data, to identify and mitigate any potential problems. 

If you scrutinise your services – and the processes that enable them – through this new lens, how do you think you’d honestly stack up in terms of delivering campaign impacts while defending consumer privacy and security?

Those who can extract the maximum juice whilst minimising risk for consumer and brand by not squeezing the data so hard some slips out of their hands – what we at RadiumOne call Data Positive Marketing – will emerge as market leaders. 

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