On the one hand, it's a marketers dream. We have the ability to understand our consumers like never before. Aggregate collections of consumer data gives us insight into all sorts of behaviors from purchasing, to browsing and social posting. Using tools like attribution modeling, we can even understand the complex pathways by which consumers initially find brands and later make purchases. It truly is an incredible byproduct of technology.
On the other hand, big data is terrifying! We as consumers can be tracked so thoroughly through our use of technology. Privacy concerns are nothing new, but as technology gets more advanced people seem to get more wary (or so they claim). Recently, many major tech companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have come under fire for potential ties they may have with the NSA and it's massive and controversial terror monitoring protocols. Whether it's true or not, people believe that companies and governments are collecting their data and actively searching it, keeping tabs on where they're going and what they're talking about. Though typically most of these monitors are using complex algorithms and programs to sift through data and create aggregate metrics, or in the case of the government, flagging potential threats, what matters is that people think that their private lives are no longer private.
A recent study coming out of McCann shows that it's not actually the act of collecting the data or the data that's collected that's the issue, it's how consumers think you're using it that's the problem.
The study showed that perceived threat for brands like Google and Facebook is increasing, while the threat from Amazon, another of the top online data collectors, remains low. Why is this? All of these companies collect massive amounts of personal data and, for the most part, are not shy about showing you how they're using that information. According to McCann, the experience a brand creates play large roles in whether consumers are threatened by a brand's use of data or not. Think about the differences between these three companies:
- Google uses your information across an ever-growing number of platforms to serve you the most relevant search results and advertisements that it possibly can.
- Facebook uses your information to tailor the contents of your news feed, increase your social circle, and provide you sponsored posts and ads from various other brands.
- Amazon uses your information to tailor your shopping experience, finding you items related to the one's your searching for and constantly bringing you one step closer to the product you need.
The analysis states that consumers perceive a difference between "owning" and "using" their personal information. Much of this subtle difference is determined by what the company does with this data once they've obtained or observed it. The most observable action that the companies like Facebook and Google take with data is using it to serve up targeted ads. When you think about it, this seems like a much more selfish, non-user-centric approach even though it's more complicated than that. What people see is the company using their data to make money, even though the reality is that ads are how they keep their services free and so they try to make them as relevant as possible.
It's such a fine line between a positive and negative experience! Facebook and Google also use people's data to tailor search results, content recommendations, and more. Those brands also make good use of their customer's data, but unfortunately most of this happens on the backend and is generally taken for granted.
What this study tells me is that we need to be extremely sensitive to what data we're collecting and how we are leveraging it when designing brand experiences. When we capture data, we can tell registrants why we need certain information and what we plan to do with it (and I don't mean with a lot of fine print). Though typically, at least in pharma, we mainly use the data we collect to assess eligibility and segment follow-up communications, we should always be thinking of how, after requesting this personal information, we can personalize every part of the experience. Are there tools we can tailor to a specific person? Can we streamline a certain search? Can we include loading or waiting messages that explain how it takes time to customize results? Can we send out messages that aren't product related but build a personal relationship like a happy birthday message?
Consumers are sensitive in this strange time where the lines of privacy are blurring and clearly we walk a fine line between loyalty and distrust. By being transparent with our data policies and ensuring that we are leveraging that data FOR our customers rather than only for ourselves, I think we can foster relationships that allow us to fall on the right side of that line.