Celebrate Data Innovation...Then Defend It With All Your Might

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Data forum: If you abuse it, prepare to lose it.
Data forum: If you abuse it, prepare to lose it.

The Direct Marketing Association wants to wish you a happy first Data Innovation Day. It also wants to warn you that you'd better get your advanced analytical acts together if you plan celebrate many more.

“When we talk about data innovation, we hear about amazing opportunities for marketers, how much better they can service consumers' needs. We hear nothing but ‘awesome' from the marketers' side,” said DMA government affairs VP Rachel Nyswander Thomas in a web panel convened today by the association in support of Data Innovation Day, created by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation to raise awareness of the benefits of Big Data.

“But,” Thomas continued, “there's a belief among policy makers that marketers aren't capable of acting as responsible stewards of customer information. There's room for innovation about how we talk about our industry. You aren't going to have a business if your customers can't trust you.”

And a heck of a business it is. Thomas quoted DMA calculations that direct marketers' efforts generate $2.05 trillion in sales and account for nearly 9% of the United States GDP.

 Also on the panel (moderated by Direct Marketing News editor-in-chief Ginger Conlon) was Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, who lent weight to Thomas's foreboding. “What I've seen is a lot of black-and-white thinking about privacy. You have a lot of marketers who rush to market and say, “We have the data so let's just use it because privacy is too complex,” Dixon observed. “Ten years ago I thought some privacy protections from the analog world would be able to be carried over into the digital world. But we're rethinking privacy in the digital era.”

Veteran direct marketer Ernan Roman, whose company has conducted thousands of personal interviews with consumers in voice-of-customer efforts for Fortune 500 companies, sees the issue as a value proposition that needs to be worked out between sellers and buyers. “Across all the voice-of-customer research we did in 2012, one remarkable consistency emerged,” Roman said. “Consumers are being much more proactive in selecting companies [they do business with], acting on their own research. And they expect companies to use their input to create better products and experiences for them. If they trust the marketer, they will comply with providing relevant information.”

Roman and Dixon were in agreement that certain types of data, especially personal health information, had to be treated with special sensitivity by marketers.

“In work we've done in the healthcare sector, we learned that people are looking for guidance and tips that will help educate them about issues they're facing,” Roman observed. “Their attitude is, ‘If you're a credible organization, I will trust you in the expectation you will deliver on the information I'm trusting you with.'”

Personal health information is a focal point for the issue of data retention, Dixon noted. “There's a lot of concern about health data and how long marketers are permitted to keep it in their databases,” she said. “[Consumers] want parameters set around what's sensitive.”

Thomas concluded the discussion by laying out the DMA's Digital Innovation Day wish list for marketers: Be more transparent with customers. Educate them about what you're doing to protect their information and win their trust. Get involved in addressing privacy issues brewing in the halls of Congress.

“What if legislation passed to stop the collection of customer information? If data went away tomorrow, what would you do?” she asked. “We posed that question to members and ‘We'd be dead in the water' was what we heard.”

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