Using Data Wisely

Earlier today I read an excellent post by Alistair Croll on O’Reilly Radar, titled “Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it“. It was intruiging discussion about the challenges of big data collection and use. As a services company that helps clients collect, analyze and utilize data in marketing, I found it valuable since, as practitioners, we hold many of the arrows that could readily “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

As we routinely see in programs, consumers do not recoil at well targeted, subtlely-presented personalization or content customization. As consumers, we value content that is relevant and appreciate promotions that we can use. But, that does not mean that we want to be permanently constrained in our own demographically-constructed data prisons. Nor in some perverse, masochistically-inspired twist of fate, do we suddenly want to find that our data is causing us to receive higher interest rates, or pay higher prices than our peers. Think for a moment about the case of Orbitz which employed profile driven presentation of higher price hotel options to Mac users. I can here myself now saying “I can afford the more expensive tablet, so I want to pay higher prices for hotels too!”

Mind you, Expedia did not display higher prices, all they did was differentially display the higher priced options in preferred positions, but it was different from the logic displayed to other consumers, and could have impacted the reader’s choice of hotel. Consumers dubbed that a fail.

As Alistair eloquently points out, the issue is not how much data we collect, but rather how the data will be used. And in the hands of businesses driven by investors hungry for profit growth, that can pose a slippery slope.

In our current experience, many customers have yet to realize the magnitude of either the data-driven marketing opportunity, or of the unique challenges that extensive data capture can pose. As the first reality sets in, the second becomes a problem. For those of us in a capacity to educate, or to influence the conversation in positive ways, the imperative is growing, since it will only take a few high profile cases of misuse to bring along legislative actions that can dampen innovation and restrict us from bringing to fruition the great potential for effective marketing locked inside those mountains of data.