Tuesday, November 24, 2015

marketers need data ethics - consumers need data management skills

by kirk r gray

i recently read an article on huffington post entitled, "the dark side of free gum." it not only excited me, but it scared me. i felt excitement because of "data, data, data" and i was scared because of "data, data, data".
that said, i encourage you to read the article, i'll even wait a few minutes.

welcome back! are you just as excited and scared as i am? if you didn't read it, here's the synopsis - people who have fitness trackers who complete a goal can submit that information to a vendor who will then reward them with a free pack of gum. innocent enough, right? that's what i thought too...

think about it thought. you have this tracker tied to your wrist all day long - it is collecting data about you and your habits all the time. it knows when you're active, and it knows when you're not active, most of them even know when you're sleeping or awake. (they are a digital santa claus!) this data is good for you to discuss with your healthcare professional, but when marketers start to dig into that data, that data has more meaning than just your vital stats. we as marketers, can start to develop customer personas. the marketer in me loves this; the consumer in me just said what, based on my fitness tracker you can build a model of me as a consumer? and then use that against me?

here is what my fitness tracker typically like during the day. armed with this information, you can build a customer model of me based on the data points my fitness tracker collects and tracks:

  • 5:45 a.m. device wakes up
  • 5:45 a.m. until 6:15 a.m. device tracks activity and calories
  • 6:15 a.m. until 7:00 a.m. the device is pretty inactive
  • 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. device tracks some activity
  • 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. the device is pretty inactive
  • 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. random activities and perhaps a few spikes of calories burned
  • 4:30 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. the device sees and tracks movements
  • 5:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. more random activity
  • 6:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. the devices tracks activity and calories burned
  • 7:00 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. the device is pretty inactive
  • 9:45 p.m. device is set to sleep mode
  • and it all repeats the following day
from this one can deduce that

  • i wake up at 5:45
  • i walk the dogs next
  • i watch the morning news
  • take a shower and get ready for work
  • then i work next and walk the dogs again in the afternoon
  • come back and work some more
  • then i do some things around the house -- go to the gym or something physical
  • then i watch tv
  • and go to bed.
armed with this, a marketing professional can then look at this data and build a persona, lumping similar individuals with it, and say -- hey this person is up at 5:45, let's make sure the email campaign we send to him goes at 5:30 that way it's the "top of the box" -- and they will probably read it at 7:00. further you can either prove or disprove that hypothesis by drilling down and correlating open and click through rates and time to that persona.

the possibilities of creeping on your customers are limitless. we as marketers have insight into their lives that we never had before. not only that if they use an app with their tracker to track their activities and their diets marketers can take the data and make recommendations for dining establishments based on that persona or even more granular. all of which might not seem creepy to the customer, but it could be perceived as "that's odd" because it's coming from my email, not an app like foursquare or one of the other hundreds of apps individuals have on their smartphone these days.

marketers potentially have access to data that we never had before or dreamed about. but in our rush to obtain that data and build out the perfect customer profile, i think a lot of marketers aren't thinking responsibly about that data we have access too. our ethics and morals of marketing aren't keeping up with the sources of data and the speed at which they develop in a world powered by the internet of everything.

the other side of this ethics argument is that consumers need to be responsible for their data. consumers need to know what they are getting into. how many of us tell our submitters what they are really signing up for? as an example, how many have gone to have our car fixed and are asked for an email address so that they can send you an email when the vehicle is ready. but they never once tell you that you're also going to be getting emails from the shop about specials and coupons. this has become so commonplace that it is in my opinion a loophole in can-spam requirements because consumers don't/haven't revolted against it.

but when it comes to data, we as marketers should look at the data source as a consumer. do you find the possibilities creepy? what about disruptive? would i be comfortable using my personal data in this way? if the answer to those questions is no, then you have options:
  • scale back the big data and the usage of it - your customers might appreciate the efforts to respect them as a person, not as a number
  • disclose fully to your customers how you plan to use their data now and in the future, and have them agree to this
  • provide your customers with tips and ways for them to be careful about the data that they provide the "internet of everything"
  • build a robust preference center allowing them to opt in and opt out of data collection as well as communication methods
  • finally, reward them not just for doing an activity that provides you with data - the pack of gum is a great cheap incentive, but when you set up things like this reward them for signing up in addition to the activity

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