Digital Privacy: Benefits, Education and Building the Road to Trust

Last week, I attended the Direct Marketing Association conference in Las Vegas, and one of the things that struck me was the attitude of marketers to privacy. At one session, an impassioned speech was given by the president of the DMA to “rise up” against the “privacy zealots”, and that failure to do so would be the end of the relevant internet.

In short, marketers seem to perceive restrictions in data use as something being taken away from us.

So I have to wonder: Do we even have a right to react that way? Was carte blanch access to customers’ data ever really ours? Or were we just lucky to skate by using it so far?

Who owns the data?

Organisations capture and store customer data. However, the data represents the actions of consumers. So, who “owns” it?

As an analogy, consider medical information. A doctor’s office or hospital captures and stores this information. But at any time, a patient has the right to request it, and has control over whether one doctor can share it with another. If digital consumer data is treated in this way, it seems that a consumer may have similar control.

Education and Trust

The exchange of data for benefit is one that requires education and trust. And herein lies the issue. To date, we (digital marketers, analysts) have not done a good job of either.

By using data in the ways we have, without having educated along the way, we created this environment. Until the privacy uproar began, there was little or nothing done by marketers to put limits in place. We had to respond to raps on the knuckles before taking (what appear to be) begrudging actions. No wonder consumers don’t trust us!

We have failed to educate, and by developing new and ill-understood technologies, this was our responsibility. After all, when air travel first become possible, customers had to weigh a benefit (getting there quickly) versus the risk (being harmed.) For airlines to succeed, they had to educate consumers about both the benefits and risks of air travel. Of course, I’m not arguing this was done out of the goodness of the travel industry’s hearts – air travel is a very clear “opt in” situation, and success required it.

But had we educated – what a difference it might have made already. Think about what consumers find “creepy”. Going to a grocery store website, ordering groceries online, then having the store recommend recipes to use these ingredients? Perfectly okay. Being followed on the internet by advertising related to products you’ve previously browsed? Creepy. Why? Because consumers don’t understand why they are seeing these ads. They understand how their actions led to recipe recommendations. Re-targeting, on the other hand, makes them feel as though they are being watched on every site they visit, and that this information is somehow stored in some central “spy” repository.

Too complex to educate?

Yes, there is some complexity in how digital marketing technologies work. However, education is not impossible, and complexity is no excuse.

Let’s consider another medical example. Doctors need to seek informed consent prior to patients undergoing medical treatments. Medical procedures are often far more complex than digital tracking, and the consequences of making the wrong choice can be severe. (We are literally talking life and death!) If doctors can educate patients regarding complex medical procedures, we can certainly educate regarding digital marketing and tracking.

Balancing benefits

Education is, of course, critical. The consumer must understand the two sides of the equation: the concerns they have with digital tracking and targeting, and the benefits they receive from it.

But marketers must ensure there are two sides of the equation. Every use we make of data needs to have some benefit for the consumer, or all the education in the world won’t help us.

Fighting for the consumer

Marketers are fighting for their right to market.

Privacy advocates are fighting for tougher restrictions.

What we need is to fight for the consumer. To empower them with education, so they can balance the risks and benefits, and reach their own decisions. Only by providing benefits, unbiased education and allowing consumers to reach a decision (then truly respecting that decision) can we build the trust we’ll need to move forward.

[Credit: Thanks to Bryan Pearson for the great food for thought at DMA2012. You can read more about consumer perception of targeting and tracking in LoyaltyOne’s 2012 Privacy Research:

DMA 2012: These are a few of my favourite themes

Big data

“Big data” is the buzz word of the year. But sadly, most companies aren’t doing enough with their “small data” to even think of tackling “big data”. It’s easy to think that big data is just “more data”, but in truth, it will fundamentally change the way we need to look at data, the tools we need and the skillsets we need to hire. We are already facing a huge talent shortage, and this will only continue to grow.

But more than that, the future is not just about big data, but also new data. The proliferation of channels and data streams is not slowing. This data can be actionable, but first, we need to get it all in one place. This is easier said than done!

Focus on action

I would argue that most companies are fairly well sold on the need for, and value of, data. However, in the end, the best data doesn’t necessarily win – the first person to act on it does.

Something that struck me was Chris Anderson’s comment, “Correlation is not causation, but it is something.” He cautioned against getting so bogged down in understanding exactly what caused something. Instead, get comfortable with not knowing, and taking action on what you have. After all, Bayesian statistics tells us to focus on probability, not certainty, as there is no “right”, there is only “right-er.”

Andrew Edwards discussed the data driven organisation. Some of the critical factors setting apart data driven organisations are that they understand and measure against their business goals (rather than measuring what is easy!), are organized around the intelligence they get from the data, know how to say no to what is ineffective, and iteratively analyse and learn from what they do.

The power of the consumer

Historically, what happened if someone was unhappy with a company? They wrote a letter, maybe told their family over dinner. Now, consumers can take to social media and their message can become quickly amplified. Take the customer who called out Papa John’s on Twitter – she only had 30 followers, yet this was quickly picked up and spread by Scott Stratten, who had tens of thousands.

The average customer is reachable on 7+ channels, and has high expectations! Not only are we active on multiple channels, but we expect companies to recognise us as we move between them. This isn’t going away – technology will continue to increase this fragmentation.

Marketing today is not about defining your brand, or pushing out a message. You no longer define your brand – your customer’s perceptions, how they share those with others, truly define you. Now, everything needs to be viewed as marketing, including hiring. Your employees are the ones who represent your brand every day, and they deliver the message about who you are. (Not your expensive ad campaign!)

The reality is, while businesses have the data, consumers now have the power. However, when companies try to seize the upper hand by exploiting data, it leads to trouble … Namely, the privacy debate.


Not surprisingly, privacy was a key topic at this year’s DMA. Bryan Pearson ran a fantastic session, which still has me thinking.

Some sobering stats:

  • Only 42% of consumers trust companies with their personal info.
  • Only 22% of consumers believe they are getting any benefit for sharing personal information.

Privacy is goes hand in hand with trust. Consumers tend to be more concerned about data and privacy with companies that they don’t have an existing relationship with. Pearson recommends working within what he calls the “virtuous cycle”: Get permission, Build trust and Develop relationship. Then repeat. You want more data? Back to Get permission. Giving customers a choice of whether to share or not will actually build trust, and makes that sharing more likely.

“You don’t know me. You know some things about me.”
-Lester Wunderman

The reality is, data use and privacy has been something of a “wild wild west.” There’s a need for governance around this, and if companies can not or will not self- and industry-govern, legislative action is likely. All it takes is one company to be caught doing something unsavoury, and everyone is quickly tarnished. But it doesn’t even take action. Just collecting data with no clear intention of what you’ll use it for, and how that will benefit consumers, is a recipe for disaster. So stop and think – would you stand up in a court of public opinion and be comfortable defending how you use and protect customer data? Are you treating consumer’s data with the reverence that you should?

In the end, “Information can be very powerful, but it’s what we use it for that will define us.”

The Return on Investing in Training and Education

Across different companies, there are differing attitudes towards the value of conferences, training and industry events. Sometimes (more commonly on the agency or consulting side) attendance at conferences is considered to be of benefit to the business, as it is considered marketing, and may lead to new clients. However, an employee’s desire to attend events and up-skill often goes unsupported. Or, if education is begrudgingly permitted, the time is almost treated as if the employee is “on vacation.”

In my humble opinion, the best digital analytics professionals want to attend conferences or training, be constantly learning and growing. It’s a sign that you hired well! These are the analysts who will go the extra mile, and do more than you even thought of.

But companies do the wrong math. They think about the price of a conference plus travel and accommodation, and think, “What’s in it for me?”

Here’s what’s in it for you. Think of the cost of conferences and training for your employees. Now think of the cost of employee turnover, recruiting, time spent understaffed, and retraining. Now add in the number of times you’ll do this, as you continue to lose great people (in an industry where 51% have changed jobs in the last 12 months!) – people to whom continual growth and education is critical to their job satisfaction.

The math seems pretty simple to me.

#eMetrics Boston 2012: Key Takeaways

Last week was another great eMetrics, this time in my (new) hometown, Boston. In case you missed the 10,000 tweets, here are a few of my key takeaways, as well as a few of the giggles that entertained me.

Top themes:

1. It’s (still) about people

If you are reading this, I don’t need to tell you about the challenges of attracting, nurturing and retaining talent in this industry. However, while the focus was absolutely on the people within an analytics team (with an entire track was devoted to recruiting and career advice!) other sessions highlighted the need to focus on people more generally. From building your team to communicating with others to building a culture of analytics, here were some of “thoughts of the day(s)”:

  • It’s critical to take time to train users, but on what they need to know, rather than just generic training. – Chris Johannessen
  • Analytics can’t be successful without goals, but it’s critical that goals are politically aligned. – Jim Sterne
  • Building an analytics culture requires you to play both offense and defense. Play offense by messaging exceptions and continually getting your message out. Playing defense by ensuring data quality – for example, making sure you have alerts set up. – Chris Johannessen
  • Regarding hiring: “Buy talent, rent skills.” If you’re filling very specific skill gap, use consultants. To build team, hire talent. – Corry Prohens
  • But, Shari Cleary made it clear it’s also critical to hire people who complement your team, and bring new skillsets in.
  • A question was asked: “Why is it so much easier to argue for tools than for people?” Jim Sterne’s answer? “Because there are very few vendors selling people.” Absolutely the truth. Which leads me to …

2. It’s not about the tools

As Gilligan said, “Do not ask – which tools do we need? Ask – what data do we want?” Recruiting advice (and practices!) are even moving away from the tools. As Eric Feinberg said: “Hire for mindset, not toolset.” Keep in mind that in the end, “all the tools in the world can feed your brain but they’re not going to give you insight. Your brain creates insight.” – Jim Sterne. And: “I don’t care if you have a Formula One in your driveway if you can’t drive it” – it is critical to be leveraging tools, technology, and integrating them! – Stephane Hamel.

Speaking of tools, while tag management vendors have been around for a while, this was certainly the first eMetrics where they stole the show.

In case you live under a rock missed it, Google announced a free tag management solution, and eMetrics was crawling with assorted tag management vendors. It’s easy to think of tag management as the newest “fad” or the newest shiny tool. However, I hope it allows us to move away from focusing on “the tools”, put them into the context and the process they need to be, and focus on the outcomes we’re driving and the value we’re delivering.

3. It’s not even about data

The term “big data” is being thrown all over the place these days, but I think Eric Feinberg said it best: “It’s not about big data, it’s about big judgment.” Using the data, making big decisions and taking big actions is what matters – no matter how big or small your data is. After all: “Research without insights is just trivia.” – KD Paine

Parting thoughts

But in the end, this really stuck with me:

“My key takeaways from eMetrics were: 1) I am not alone and my problems are shared. 2) The tools for success are there but the balancing act is on you.” – @doubleks (for someone with only four tweets, he sure made them profound!)

PS. There’s always time for fun
(And the people in our industry are tons of it!)

A few of my favourite moments:

Rocking the Satellite Bandana

Fenway Park

DAA Fenway Event

If you didn’t get to attend the DAA Fenway event, I have to say … you missed out. Speaker Tim Zue was fascinating talking about how the Red Sox use data to manage everything from ticket prices to understanding no-shows and more, and even gave out valuable prizes for questions! The feedback from DAA members and event attendees was that it was a resounding success, so check out the next member event near you!

Lobby Bar

Chocolate, eMetrics Style - Thanks Rene!

Oh yeah, and …

'Nuff said...

Until next time, eMetrics … “Where did you go?!”


#eMetrics Boston: Twitterific!

A few fun facts about eMetrics Boston on Twitter:

  • During the conference timeframe, there were 2,726 tweets from 499 users, averaging 5.5 tweets per user. (For comparison, eMetrics San Francisco saw 3,241 tweets during the conference from 622 users, but it was also a more heavily attended conference.)
  • The top 20 contributors to the #eMetrics hashtag were:

MicheleJKiss 295  (don’t judge me)
BloggerKrista 189
measurefuture 138
june_li 112
eswayne 76
andrewjanis 75
rdo 67
RachaelGerson 66
deniseburns 65
jimsterne 47
Stuart_Wood 45
AnyaPrimavera 43
LdsWebAnalytics 43
codydbailey 40
iwanttobesocial 40
SashaVerbitsky 39
tgwilson 39
Wilson_Lopez 39
johnlovett 35
emetrics 33
JoseAnalytics 33

The tweet that reached the furthest (thanks TweetReach!) with over 430,000 impressions was:

(And in case you’re curious, the second highest also mentioned Gilligan.)

And in case you’re curious what we were talking about:

Thank you to the lovely and clever people at TweetReach for the spiffy data!

#eMetrics presentation: Communication

For those who might be interested, check out my presentation from eMetrics Boston: “The Most Undervalued Analytics Tool: Communication”


Note: The presentation is fairly visual, with few words, but you can view the speaker notes below the presentation by clicking through and viewing on SlideShare. Select the Notes tab to view notes for the slide:
This presentation covers the material in my Communication series. If you’d like to read more, check out: The Most Undervalued Analytics Tool: Communication