The Big Data And Mobile Privacy Conundrum

It's natural for people to feel threatened if they believe their actions and communications are being monitored without consent.

And this aversion has inspired numerous fictional works, with the best-known example being George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which turned the phrase “Big Brother” into a synonym for surveillance.

That’s why the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM program -- which reportedly has been monitoring Americans’ emails, online photos, videos, chats and searches -- have unleashed a firestorm of criticism among media, political circles and the public.

Considering the vast resources devoted to discussing Big Data, certainly as it relates to marketing, the PRISM controversy got me thinking about the intelligent ways marketers could use customer data to boost engagement and ROI while still addressing those customers’ privacy concerns.



A golden age for Big Data?

At its most basic, Big Data is the accumulation of massive amounts of information through digital channels. It’s so big that according to the Harvard Business Review, the 2.5 exabytes of data generated daily (as of late last year) would fill 5 million filing cabinets.

In the mobile marketing space, any conversation concerning Big Data must include a discussion of how to collect and analyze that data in order to glean actionable insights into consumer behavior.

And it has never been easier to do that while still respecting consumers’ privacy.

Let’s review the first half of my previous statement. As marketers know, consumers are digitally interacting with brands in numerous ways. Every time consumers engage with brands through these channels, they create data that reveals their wants and needs to brands. This information presents an excellent opportunity to deliver offers that speak to each customer’s personal preferences, vastly increasing the chances for a sale.

Marketers are increasingly aware of Big Data’s potential -- even if 60% of them say they’re still not quite ready for its challenges, according to a recent survey from the Direct Marketing Association and Neolane.

Now let’s focus on the second half of my earlier statement -- how to use customer data in privacy-conscious and ethical ways.

Respecting privacy: not all consumer data is the same

Consumers have been concerned about their data privacy ever since Internet access became commonplace. Today, 89% of American consumers are worried about this, while 80%-90% of Canadians say they are at least “somewhat concerned.”

So how can a brand leverage its customers’ data while respecting their concerns? 

As an example, let’s imagine a retailer with a loyalty program that can be accessed through a mobile app. This retailer also relies on location-aware technologies and proximity marketing to draw customers back into its physical stores.

When its smartphone-armed loyalty members venture within a certain distance from one of its stores, the retailer, which knows what kinds of products each of its customers likes to buy -- and at what prices -- sends relevant opt-in messages and offers that add value.

Many customers redeem offers, not only because they are relevant, but because the retailer has carefully restricted its mobile offers to customers who have given it permission to do so.

Honoring opt-outs is also a crucial part of data-privacy respect. Plus, there is a lot of information brands can gather and analyze -- including location, past purchases and preferred price points -- without collecting personal identifying information like names, phone numbers and email addresses.

Although no brand is going to unleash an NSA-style snooping campaign, it still must address customers’ anxieties when analyzing mobile data for marketing purposes. Finding the right balance between the two is the perfect prescription for consistently delivering valuable offers that keep customers coming back -- again and again.



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