Is consumer data making brands greedy?

The nature of social media and the Big Data phenomenon is making brands greedy, many pushing consumers to give more data, like more and share more. But how long will increasingly savvy consumers let this continue? Not only are they losing patience with it, but they are wising up to the fact that many organisations are making fortunes by selling their data on. In the future brands will need to put generosity before greed if they want to grow.

There’s no question that the benefits that data offers (whether big or small) are coming under increasing scrutiny – a hidden window, a manipulation tool and a money making machine – all attractive propositions for any brand or business, yet deeply unattractive truths when we consider them as consumers.

Our recent qualitative research across a number of markets has highlighted that these truths are largely abstract ideas in the minds of consumers. Whilst identity theft and fraud are very real and worryingly imaginable for most, the idea than companies can manipulate us and ultimately make more money out of us using the data they collect (whether we knowingly give it to them or not), is much further from people’s minds, largely due to a lack of clarity as to what is going on out there.

But this could all be about to change. The revelations that the Wall Street Journal brought to the fore last week about the experiments Facebook’s research team have been conducting to see how much they can manipulate people’s emotional states is among the first major lights to be shined on this area, and on the potential power that data can deliver. My guess is that this might be the first story of many and as such consumers will wise up, asking more questions and probably keeping tighter control on what they give to whom.

So how can brands and businesses set themselves up for success with this in mind? The answer in my view lies in being generous before being greedy.

1. Be generous with the transparency you provide

One of the biggest drivers of mistrust in this area is the hidden nature of it. Consumers can’t fully trust what they don’t see or understand. That is why it is important to help people understand what you do with their data. But don’t bombard them with reams and reams of information. Tell your story simply, be clear on what you do and critically why, highlighting the benefits to them as customers. Linked In is best in class in this area – their privacy policy adding real value to their brand story. I implore you to watch their short video explaining it here if you haven’t already. It raises an interesting question in our minds as to whether a brands privacy policy should be in the ownership of the legal teams, or the marketing teams – my vote goes with the latter.

2. Be generous with what you do (or rather don’t) ask for

Many brands still want to collect data proactively above and beyond the reactive information cookie data can provide. Do so with the consumer experience in mind. No-one wants to sit answering ten questions about themselves, who they are and where they live when they know full well it’ll result in a bombardment of direct mail and text messages trying to sell you things you don’t want or need. Respect your customers time and privacy – if you must collect more data collect as little as you need. Make the experience easy, possibly even enjoyable, and most importantly give your customers something of value in return, which brings me nicely on to my final point.

3. Be generous with what you give in return

The wiser consumers get, the more the principle of ‘giving value to get value’ will become the cornerstone of data collection, no matter what sort of data it is. I can imagine a world in the not too distant future where consumers have full knowledge of the value of their data and demand an equal exchange of value if they are to give it away. So the real question to ask yourselves is ‘what is the benefit to our customers of this data we are collecting?’ If there is a clear benefit, such as that demonstrated so well by Linked In, then celebrate it. If there isn’t and it’s simply about enabling you to enhance your sales conversion rates or even sell data on to third parties then you’ll need to create something of value that you can share back with your customers – a discount or two, a nice bit of content, or loyalty/reward points. O2’s Priority Moments is a lovely example of this – their rewards being entirely relevant to what their customers want and need. The nature of what you give from your brand will depend on the nature of your brand and the intended use of the data. But key is that you never forget that there has to be a benefit to the customer.

There is no denying that the online world gives both brands and consumers more power than ever before. It is possible to use this power for mutual gain, creating a win: win situation for everyone involved. But we all have a responsibility for making this happen. For me this starts with generosity, transparency, respect and sharing the value.

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