Data: With great power comes even greater responsibility

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Lawrence Kimmel, Direct Marketing Association
Lawrence Kimmel, Direct Marketing Association

When marketers provide relevant, helpful solutions, based on data, they're adored. When marketers provide irrelevant messaging, or don't properly protect customer data, they're admonished — and rightly so. What must marketers do now?

They must leverage data in service of the consumer and protect their information like never before. When data is leveraged to make the Sony PlayStation experience more challenging and exciting, consumers are enthralled. When their personal information is hacked, they're obviously appalled. Working with the Federal Trade Commission, the Direct Marketing Association established best-practice guidelines for data use that are available to any marketer.

Marketers must better inform consumers about the benefits of data use. The information economy — fueled by data and funded by advertising — has changed the world. Virtually every piece of important information humankind has ever discovered is available via Google — and it's free. More than 800 million people enjoy Facebook — and it's free. Nine of the world's top 10 websites are free because they are supported by advertising. Data is the backbone that drives relevant messages to consumers and helps fund innovation. Consumers must better appreciate these facts. That's why the Digital Advertising Alliance (comprised of the DMA, AAAA, ANA, AAF and IAB), with the help of McCann Worldgroup launched the “Your AdChoices” public education campaign. This effort informs consumers how data can be leveraged to their advantage — and advises them on how to take greater control of their online data.

Marketers must correct legislators' misperceptions about privacy. In a global study recently fielded by McCann, consumers indicated that their fears about privacy are largely centered on identity theft and malware — not data used for marketing purposes. Lawmakers must understand these truths. Is it any surprise that most consumers prefer receiving relevant communications as opposed to random advertisements uninformed by the power of data?

Marketers must continue the march toward smart self-regulation. The Digital Advertising Alliance has also established industry standards for self-regulation for online advertising. Although billions of impressions are served every month, broader adoption of this critical program is needed. Our industry must uniformly embrace the program that empowers consumers with the choices they want.

Lawrence Kimmel is the CEO of the Direct Marketing Association.

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