Do You Know Me? Should You?

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Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News
Ginger Conlon, Editor-in-Chief, Direct Marketing News

The debate over customer data privacy continues to wage on. Yet, even as many consumers and their advocates trumpet the ills of unfettered data collection and use, report after report reveals research findings that just as many customers will share information about themselves without hesitation if the price is right. And I don't just mean, “I'll trade you my email address for a coupon.” Customers will share valuable data about themselves if the company they're sharing it with will give them some benefit in exchange. That benefit may be fewer, but more relevant communications. It may be exclusive experiences for high-value customers only. Whatever the benefit(s) may be, they need to be clear up front: If you share X data, we'll give Y in return.

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. Companies collect plenty of customer data without asking. Some they need to—for regulatory purposes, or to help fight fraud, etc. Some is essential in other ways: to help improve products or processes, for example.

Other data is for marketing and marketing alone. And that's where “need” becomes a relative term. Used well, though, all that data can bring great benefit to marketers and the customers they serve. Even so, the reality is that despite good intentions, consumer opinions will vary.

Seeking alignment

I'm a member of retailer White House | Black Market's loyalty program. I receive its catalogs and emails. Both are well timed to support each other. I receive a catalog, then an email within a day or so pointing me to the website to get another look at the new goodies in the catalog. Just last week I received the latest catalog and supporting emails.

Then something else was added to the usual mix: While online doing some research I got served a WHBM banner ad about the new items. Some customers might have thought that was creepy. Me? I thought, “Cool,” and got up, went to the catalog, tore out the coupon, and put it in my purse for a trip to the store later that day.

Therein lies one of the biggest challenges that marketers, watchdogs, and legislators face: inconsistency. As Elyse Dupré explains in “The 5 Biggest Privacy Issues…Revealed,” there are myriad definitions of privacy, of tracking, even of data broker. Without consensus there's more gray than there is black and white—and with those gray areas an assurance of ongoing debate. Savvy marketers are getting involved in the discussion, aiming to ensure self-regulation through a customer-centric approach to privacy. That doesn't mean forgoing the business benefits.

Just ask Caesar's Entertainment. The casino giant collects data from internal sources like its loyalty program and external ones like its websites, and then uses it to up- and cross-sell—or provide added perks to—its guests, at the most relevant times and via their preferred channel, as Al Urbanski notes in “At Caesars, Digital Marketing Is No Crap Shoot.” Customers like it, as evidenced by improvements in its marketing performance. And those results benefit the casino, as well.

So the question isn't just how well do you know your customers? It's how well should you know them to meet your goals while best serving them?

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