Counter Big Data Paranoia With Little Data Optimism

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Counter Big Data Paranoia With Little Data Optimism
Counter Big Data Paranoia With Little Data Optimism

We've all heard hype around Big Data and its potential to change the world. But how? Will Big Data benefit ordinary consumers, or only the companies using it? Is it paranoid to think that Big Data is just another phrase for Big Brother? 

Another option is the “Little Data” philosophy, in which users are given the power to control their own data. Little Data optimistically promotes changing the world by changing the way personal identity data is used in marketing; this includes providing consumers control and choice over how their identity data is used. Juxtapose this optimism against Big Data paranoia, including the occasionally questionable ways that personal data is gathered and used, and Little Data can seem a more attractive option. Here's how to assess the different approaches:

Little Data

Big Data

Empowers the individual consumer

Empowers the corporation



Real user data

Aggregated, anonymous data

Consumer owns the data

Companies own the data

Consumer controls data flow

Company controls data usage

There are significant benefits to the consumer in a Little Data scenario, including control over the privacy of their identity data and how it's used to market to them. There are several key factors in creating benefits for the customer:

Let the customer decide what to share.  Ask them what data they want to share, and how they want it used. For example, do they want to get advertising messages about specific products? Rather than alienating a customer by spamming out non-targeted ads, let them tell you what they want. And let them choose the level of detail they want to share—some will want to share less, others more.

Reward customers for sharing; the more they share, the bigger the reward. If a customer only provides basic information, give them a basic discount. But customers who are willing to share greater detail should get more substantial discounts, advance sales notices, personal shopper benefits, etc. These customers are providing real data that is valuable to your company, so give them greater value in return. Customers who are offered value for information are more willing to share than those who are compelled to give up their data.

Let the customer know with whom their data will be shared. If you want to share or sell customer data to third parties, let them know where that data will go and who will be using it, and let them give permission—or choose not to do so. This kind of transparency builds brand trust, because customers know who's using their data, and can control that use.

Let the customer take back permission. Allow the customer to easily opt-out or to request that their data be deleted. This level of choice leads to greater trust in a brand. If a customer knows that they can opt out, they feel that they have a choice.

Giving customers a choice whether or not to share their data may be horrifying to some marketers who believe that customers will stop sharing, and access to customer data will dry up. But analyst firms Forrester and Ovum have done research on this topic, and both have come to the same conclusion: Consumers will start cutting off access to their personal data if marketers do not start respecting them and giving them transparency, choice, and control over their data.

Companies may not want to give up what they see as a data goldmine, but the tide will eventually turn. The opaque, controlling Big Data approach is being interpreted as a violation of privacy and digital identity property rights in Europe, where legislation is being developed to give the power back to the consumer. While it may take some time for the rest of the world to follow suit, eventually the pressure will force a change.

Ultimately, companies who invest in Little Data techniques will see the advantages, and a recent Compass Intelligence study we commissioned outlined the following benefits:

  • Deeper, more meaningful customer relationships
  • Higher-value data provided by consumers
  • Consumer appreciation for being given control
  • Positive brand visibility and increased consumer trust

The Little Data movement offers value to consumers and corporations alike—it just takes optimism and belief. Every company that implements Little Data techniques is taking a step toward empowering their customers, creating those deeper relationships, and building valuable customer loyalty.

Kami Haynes is director of corporate marketing at UnboundID


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