Consumers are often blind to the alarming volume of personal data at the disposal of digital corporations such as Facebook and Google, but for those that are aware, the feeling is generally one of discomfort. A report by KPMG International found that “unwanted marketing” was the most cited reason for consumers to feel uneasy at corporations keeping a record of their personal data and history.

If the majority of consumers find the use of personal data unsettling, marketers should look to avoid publicising the fact that they have unrivalled access to data on just about everybody as this is unlikely to bear fruit in the long term.

The problem with big data

The fact that data is so readily available should not be a call-to-arms for marketers to concoct marketing campaigns that are personalised to the extreme. In his book Taming The Big Data Tidal Wave, Bill Franks wrote about how consumer data is often misused: “Too many people get caught up in using flashy graphics just because they can. Simple is best. Only get fancy or complex when there is a specific need.” This strategy implores the marketer to discern the end goal of its communications rather than shoehorning fad-driven plans into the overall aims of the process.

Statistics around “mass personalisation” show that the majority of consumers are not comfortable with receiving offers and services in exchange for handing over their personal data. To use consumer data in such an intimate way reflects on the company rather than the consumer’s perception of the brand. With so many consumers adverse to large corporations brandishing their information like a personal play-thing, it seems unwise to use big data as a means to peddle a brand’s relatability, especially if it cannot be shown to positively benefit the brand where it matters.

Effective use of consumer data

There are several examples of good practice relating to using data effectively. Spotify ran a clever OOH campaign that used its consumers’ data to provide quirky facts and statistics about the music listening trends and particulars that had happened over a 12 month period. The stats were used as part of a billboard campaign which attracted national coverage.

The way in which Spotify chose to utilise the anonymised data at its disposal showed an in-depth understanding of how comfortable its users are with their data being processed and broadcast. What was important about the underlying message of the campaign is that it tapped into one of Spotify’s USPs in the way that everyone uses the streaming platform differently and it is entirely customisable.

Last year, Starbucks announced plans to use its data on customer preferences and tastes to present its customers with personalised offers and recommendations pushed through various marketing channels including the dedicated app. What separated this plan from others is that it was intended to drive sales. By forgoing an official “opt-in” the plan doesn’t target consumers that aren’t already invested in the brand.

Both of these campaigns work well in principle because they target a particular demographic of consumers and look to encourage users and generate more revenue. Using consumer data should be more generally applicable as a part of the retention cycle, rather than attracting new customers.

Part of the issue with using consumer data is that it often comes out in the form of personalisation and preaches to be about ‘connecting with consumers’ on a one-to-one basis. In reality, most consumers aren’t interested in this type of relationship and will be put off by adverts that use their personal information.

While data is useful for marketers to have at their disposal with regards to creating new communications, it should not be seen as a shortcut to “connect” with consumers; rather it must be saved for campaigns of genuine value and impact.


By Stephen Marfleet, content marketer at Fast Web Media

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