2014: Time to tackle data backlash

charlie top story sizeTo many people working in the marketing industry, 2013 was the year that customer data finally became king; even, dare I say, “sexy”. After years of banging the drum about how gathering, mining, and splicing and dicing personal customer information can boost a company’s bottom line, suddenly top executives started to sit up and listen.
And, like it or not, the rise of so-called “big data” has had a major role to play in this epiphany. The fear of rivals building complex data systems to give them a competitive advantage has forced many boardrooms to wake up and smell the coffee.
Yet, rather worryingly for some, just as chief executives have started to see the light, consumers are becoming increasingly sceptical about who they entrust with their information and have started to question what’s in it for them.
Recent research – most notably by Ernst & Young – shows just how serious an issue this consumer backlash could be. Nearly half of the people it surveyed for a recent poll plan to restrict access to their data by 2018, while more than half already offer less personal information than five years ago. The supply of data by businesses to third parties is also a concern for consumers, with three quarters never happy for their data to be shared.
Meanwhile businesses seem to be carrying on regardless. Almost two-thirds of firms surveyed said they implement ‘customer insight’ programmes to collect and interpret customer information to drive business growth, and the vast majority of these claim to see revenues increase as a result. However, despite this reliance, the most firms remain unconcerned about the prospect of restricted access to customer information.
And a new study appears to compound the issue by showing huge swathes of consumers do not trust firms – especially those running social media sites – with their information, and would rather hand their data over to public sector organisations than businesses, despite their atrocious record on data breaches.
Now, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that there’s little point in investing millions of pounds in big data systems only to see customers leave in their droves. So, isn’t it about time companies stopped jumping on the data bandwagon – just because their rivals are – and started doing something radical, such as thinking like their customers?
No lesser luminary than Tesco Clubcard pioneer Clive Humby has long warned firms that they must start from the viewpoint of how the data will benefit the customer; not how it will benefit the business. If senior executives don’t realise this soon, the “golden egg” of customer data will not only be over-cooked, it is likely to be splattered all over their faces, too.

Charlie McKelvey is publishing editor of DecisionMarketing

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