60 Minutes got it wrong: data brokers aren’t evil

The Big Data MOPS Series with Tamara Dull

Have you heard of About the Data? It’s a website that lets consumers see what personal data’s been collected and is being used to drive the online ads they see and offers they receive. It’s a free service provided by Acxiom, a supplier of marketing data for businesses. Yes, a data broker.

I visited About the Data last September when it first launched. As a consumer, I wanted to see how much of my personal data had been collected. As a data professional, I was more interested in seeing what type of data was being collected, how accurate it was, and how easy it was for me to change and/or delete it. I was surprised at how much data had been collected and how freakishly accurate it was (~80%). Even though I had initially planned to opt-out and delete my data, after seeing what was there, I decided to leave my data as-is (with the option to change my mind later, of course).

And it appears that I’m not alone. Acxiom recently reported these site statistics: 500K consumers have visited the site since September 2013; 40% have registered and reviewed their data; 20% have changed their data; and 2% have opted out. These numbers are lower than I would have expected. Do consumers not care?

About those data brokers. In March, 2014, CBS’ 60 Minutes did a segment on “The Data Brokers: Selling your personal information.” As a consumer, you couldn’t help but watch and wonder how much of this report was true, how much of it was spin, and ultimately, why the exposé at all. Was it to increase awareness or was it just to creep folks out? Are data brokers really that evil?

As data professionals, however, we know there’s more to the story. Did 60 Minutes get it right? Who should we be pointing our finger at – the data brokers, the marketers or the consumers themselves?

Now let’s fast-forward to May, 2014: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a report called “Data Brokers: A Call for Transparency and Accountability.” For this report, the FTC studied nine data brokers (including Acxiom) who collect personal information about consumers, then package it up and sell it to companies for a variety of purposes, including verifying identities, marketing products/services and detecting fraud. All without the consumers’ knowledge.

The FTC concluded that there is a fundamental lack of transparency about data broker practices and is strongly urging Congress to enact legislation that sheds light on these practices and gives consumers access to the personal information held by these brokers.

If you’re curious, the FTC report included a representative list of the data that’s being collected by data brokers. The list is eye-opening. I can only speak for myself, but these data brokers may, in fact, know more about me than I know/remember about myself. That’s a bit disconcerting.

The ball is now in the U.S. Congress’ court. Will they play ball or not?

Why this matters. Data brokers get it: Data sells. And now with big data (read “a lot more data”), there’s a lot more money to be made. The irony is that a lot of the “big” consumer data being collected, aggregated, anonymized, and sold is being generated by the consumers themselves. Think social media data. Think location data. Think mobile data.

How about all the money these data brokers are making off your personal data? But let’s not limit it to just the data brokers. It’s any company that is keeping tabs on your online and offline activity. (Yes, I’m looking at you Google and Facebook and the 1000+ other organizations that are collecting our data). If the data is being collected, it can be monetized. For good or for ill.

Questions to think about. Putting the data broker discussion aside for a moment, let’s look at your own company. You’ve been collecting data, aggregating it, analyzing it, managing it – and maybe even selling it – since your company’s inception. And now with big data, marketing analytics and related technologies, there’s even more data to be collected, aggregated, analyzed, and managed. Consider the following:

  • If your company collects customer/consumer data and one of your customers were to ask - “How are you using my data?” - would you be prepared to answer? Customer awareness and privacy concerns are on the rise.
  • If your company sells customer/consumer data, including anonymized data, how transparent are you with its use? Do your customers have visibility or access to their information? This may not be a legal issue now in the United States, but the FTC is in the process of changing this.
  • What big data money opportunities are you leaving on the table? You don’t need to sell your data to make money. You can use big data to drive operational efficiencies and/or with new insights, open up additional lines of revenue for your organization.

A closing thought. I applaud 60 Minutes and the FTC for raising awareness about data brokers, and agree that most Americans (1) don’t realize these companies exist and (2) don’t understand the role they play in marketing and advertising. As consumers, awareness is important and we should be able to access and manage the personal information that is being collected on us. Let’s not forget our consumer caps as we look at ways to utilize and monetize big data in our own organizations.

Originally written for and published on Smart Data Collective as part of the Big Data MOPS Series.


Editor's note: I am so pleased to showcase another big data series from Tamara as a Friday Feature. If you haven't done so already, consider subscribing to the Customer Analytics blog by clicking in that box to the right and get these posts delivered to your email inbox.

While you are thinking about big data, I'd like to suggest an HBR paper by noted thought leader Michael Schrage called, What Executives Don't Understand About Big Data. Take a look and let me know what you think.

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Seven benefits from using marketing analytics

Sunset over Marshall Field's Chicago, circa 2014

Sunset over Marshall Field's Chicago, circa 2014
[photo credit: Barry Butler Photography]

"Give the lady what she wants" and "The customer is always right" are quotes attributed to the venerable Chicago retailing pioneer Marshall Field. That customer-centered approach to doing business was leading-edge at the close of the 19th century and soon became a competitive advantage for Mr. Field's namesake department store empire.

Fast-forward more than a century, and it turns out that same customer-centered approach remains a best practice for marketing, but what's different is the operating environment. And in some ways, being customer centric is at once more challenging and more achievable than it was in the 1890s. The key lies in using marketing analytics.

In today's market, there are very few situations where one-size-fits-all marketing is the best approach. Customers are empowered, and unhappy customers will flock to competitors, often taking their friends with them. As a result, organizations can't afford to forgo efforts to know their customers as well as possible. And it's the companies that can quickly turn data into intelligence that have a leg up in the race to attract and retain their customers.

A recent TDWI checklist report, Applying Analytics with Big Data for Customer Intelligence, does a nice job of highlighting seven benefits from using marketing analytics and providing compelling examples of how those benefits play out in practice: Read More »

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Five ways to drive value through marketing in a digital world

“Companies that make the deep strategic, organizational, and operational shifts required to become effective digital marketers can become more agile, more productive, and accelerate revenue growth.”
- McKinsey & Company

With all of the latest buzz around digital marketing and the importance of diving in and riding the digital wave to bigger and better opportunities, it's always a good idea to do research on how to contribute and make a positive difference for both your customers and organization.

After reading “The Network is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age” by David Rogers, Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School, I found that everyone, working separate yet together, can bring value to their organization by implementing the same strategy. Although the book itself is several years old, the theories are still very relevant today. It examines how digital technologies — from smartphones to social media resources — connect us in networks that transform our relationships to businesses and each other.

One way to regard the internet is as a massive marketing laboratory, with people around the world launching experiment after experiment to crack the code that generates sales and customer loyalty with modest results.

Once a straigh line, now engagement with your company is a web of interactions.One constant has emerged to validate “traditional” (non-internet based) marketing best practices - talented marketers can succeed if they work together with colleagues with different – and complementary – skills where each team member learns from the others. With that collaborative approach, marketers will be better equipped to evolve with the fast-moving changes in consumer habits.

Consumers have embraced digital technology across all areas of their lifestyle, and in the process they’ve fundamentally altered how they make purchasing decisions, in many ways creating web of digital content exchanges  that characterize how they might interact with your company. Read More »

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Introducing the Big Data MOPS series

The Big Data MOPS Series with Tamara Dull

Big data – or whatever you prefer to call it – is a game changer for marketers and throughout the enterprise. And not to mince words: If you’re not using big data to improve your business – e.g., revenues, profits, operational efficiencies, decision making, etc. – then don’t do big data. It’s not worth the time, money or hassle.

Big data is not new. There’s no question that big data has received a lot of center stage attention and fanfare the last few years. Ready or not, this new age of big data is forcing organizations to look at their data - big and small, existing and potential - in a new light. But as disruptive and/or exciting as this may sound, we can’t afford to fall into the trap of believing that the “data” in “big data” is something new. Because it’s not.

Consider these “big” data sources: email, photos, videos, spreadsheets, PDF documents, satellite images, social media data, blogs, audio files, GPS data, call center transcripts, open data, RSS feeds, clickstream data - most of it is customer data, and the list goes on. Are any of these data sources new? Of course not. We’ve been collecting this data for many, many years.

So what’s new? Why all the hype? The simple answer is technology. We now have big data technology (much of it being open source) that allows us to store all this data at a fraction of the cost and process it in a fraction of the time – as compared to our existing, traditional systems. Read More »

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SAS is a leader again in the Forrester Cross Channel Campaign Management Wave

The leadership position SAS has earned comes from a strong offering and a strong market presence.Forrester Research, Inc. recently published its latest biennial "Cross-Channel Campaign Management (CCCM) Wave" evaluation. For the ​third CCCM Wave evaluation in a row, SAS is cited as a "Leader" by the leading technology analyst firm.

This evaluation is the most comprehensive study of its kind in the Customer Intelligence space, and is the result of 41 evaluation criteria of all qualifying cross-channel campaign management software vendors.

This area of Forrester’s research addresses a market in which SAS is one of only 4 vendors that lead in the space.

This is the latest in a series of great analyst validation SAS has received specific to Customer Intelligence in the last ~ 36 months. This announcement is a Forrester endorsement of our leadership in software that assists companies in the execution of multi-channel campaign management initiatives. We continue to distinguish ourselves as one of the only vendors in the market rated as a Leader across the strategy and planning, marketing and customer analytics, and campaign management and optimization disciplines required of Customer Intelligence initiatives.

SAS Customer Intelligence scored particularly well with regard to its current offering capabilities, namely around its analytics, reporting, and optimization capabilities. These capabilities are clear market differentiators for SAS and place SAS ahead of other similar service providers. SAS also fared well in the Interaction Management category, highlighting the fact that SAS has the products needed to fully manage the customer decision journey - or path from research to purchase to retention. Interaction Management focuses on both inbound and outbound decision management - and the associated actions, rules, and insight that must be in place to manage these decisions.

Forrester recommends looking to SAS
if your organization needs software to help manage
this interactive marketing journey.

Anyhow - enough from me - please take a look at the full report here and see why SAS is leading the pack!

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Are you craving ice cream? Blame the humidity.

Knowing what your customers want and when they want it is valuable insight for any business. The key is to know how to find out.

Analytics helps the VP of Marketing know what really drives customer demand.At Oberweis Dairy, one of their important product lines is ice cream - and for them, higher temperatures mean more ice cream sales, right? Not exactly. It turns out that dew point (a composite of humidity and temperature) is a better predictor of ice cream sales than just temperature.

And that key customer insight ripples throughout the enterprise, driving business decisions from production schedules to staffing - a great example of cross-business alignment to make sure that when the customer wants their ice cream, they can have it.

So how did they figure it out? By using marketing analytics. Click below to see a short video that tells the story in under three minutes:

Click here to read more details about the bigger marketing story at Oberweis, where SAS helps optimize cross-channel promotions to save millions and up customer retention by 35%.

 

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Déjà vu: Why CEM is new again

Déjà vu. For me, this term immediately conjures images of Bill Murray waking up in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on Groundhog Day – repeatedly.  In French, déjà vu means “already seen” and while I usually fall solidly into the realm of skeptic in matters like these, I have to admit feeling a strong sense of déjà vu these days.  Here’s why.

After spending the last six plus years focusing primarily on data integration consulting, I have recently changed my focus back to customer intelligence.  Discussions with our clients who are practicing customer experience management (CEM) today presents an interesting coincidence, one which causes me to feel like Murray on Groundhog Day.  Except instead of re-living yesterday, I am transported back to mid-2000.

Take CEM.  At its simplest, CEM is the ability to influence, monitor, and improve every interaction the customer has with the organization.  This definition evokes conversations with past clients about how and why to migrate from “managing the mailbox” to “controlling the communications.”  Back then we were beating the drums, warning clients that their customers would grow to expect this, attempting to shake marketers (and other business lines) out of their silo-ed complacency.

A case in point is an article I wrote for DMReview magazine in April of 2008, titled, “How Do I Love You – Let Me Count the Ways.”  In it, I posed the question “How do you avoid giving your customers too much love?” and I advocated coordinating and prioritizing customer communications across touch points. Read More »

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Five lessons from effective customer loyalty programs

Customer loyalty tags on a keychain don't necessarily drive loyalty.

Tags on keychain = loyalty? Maybe not.

How many loyalty tags do you have on your keychain?  Five? Six? Ten? Would you say those tags make you more loyal, or do you just have them for the discounts? And if it's just for the discounts, does that really build your loyalty or would you switch to the store down the street if they had better discounts?

Those questions are very real and speak to the issues behind research concluded recently by the International Institute for Analytics (IIA), which sought to identify the tenets of customer loyalty strategies and to understand how organizations are using analytics to improve loyalty programs.

Customer loyalty programs are a business imperative in our world of increasingly scarce resources, intensifying competition and fickle customers. As a consequence, loyalty programs have mushroomed to the point that the United States has 2.65 billion loyalty program memberships. These programs are demand-driven, but the research suggests that in many cases they have the unintended consequence of driving demand for discounts and not necessarily cultivating loyalty.

When building winning loyalty programs, marketers face many of the same issues in all areas of marketing: Read More »

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10 best practices for the marketer’s Big Data Archipelago journey

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” -Dr. Seuss

The BigData Archipelago has 10 islands to discover.

About three months ago, I invited marketers to join me on a journey through the Big Data Archipelago, a collection of 10 islands, each focused on a key big data topic (see island names above). A visit to each of the islands involved examining the ways big data has impacted best practices with traditional data, and considering examples to illustrate the theme of each island. Before leaving the island, our visit ended with a short list of key takeaways for marketers.

Now that our journey through the Big Data Archipelago is over, you are better prepared to tackle the big data adventure that awaits you in your organization. Go forth and discover the unknown unknowns in your company’s big data—and if at any time you need a refresher, the Wizard is always here to guide you (Hint: you can bookmark the whole series with one link)

As a parting farewell, I’ve included a summary of the best practices below. As an added bonus, you can download the 2-page best practices handout to hang on your wall—courtesy of the Wizard. Read More »

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How blogging helps me as a marketer

Blogging: prove value and you will attract your customers.I started this blog over 4 years ago as a way to give our customers a dynamic source of useful information, and also to help connect the dots for them between the business problems they face and the value propositions of our Customer Intelligence solutions.

Along the way, I think I've become a better marketer because the process of blogging forces me to do some important things over and over that reinforce good marketing practices:

Remind myself who my audience is.
Marketing involves multi-step processes working with teams of people. This may seem silly, but it can be easy to get lost in the hustle-bustle of day-to-day work and lose sight of the customer. So if you are frequently writing or editing blog posts, you are repeatedly forcing yourself to remember who your audience is.

To me, what's different about blogging than other forms of marketing is that it's more direct and personal because I approach it like a conversation. And like any good conversation, it's only worthwhile when everyone involved is interested in the topic and they're engaged by listening or adding their own perspective.

Important signs that the blog conversation is good include comments, social shares, pageviews, time-on-page and clicks on embedded links. Thankfully I see plenty of all of those happening on this blog, so thank you for your engagement!

Ask the question "Why should they care."
It's not enough to simply think of who the audience is, but also to ask constantly "why should they care." This is important because writing about topics the audience doesn't care about makes the blog (and the blogger) irrelevant over time. Read More »

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