Making the Case for Aggregate Data Over Individual Data

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Like the view of the proverbial forest, sometimes a broader view may be better.


Big data conversations inevitably lead to discussions about data privacy. With good reason. Marketers have more information on customers than ever before, in some cases to the derision of said customers. Sure, some companies are taking user data and creating vastly improved services or products. Others, however, risk annoying customers with marketing those customers consider overly personalized. Perhaps individual consumer data isn't the way to go?

Aggregate data can often achieve the same effect as individual data, but does so without offending customers, asserts marketing consultant and author Koen Pauwels. Pauwels makes a case for aggregate data in his recent book It's Not the Size of the Data--It's How You Use It: Smarter Marketing with Analytics and Dashboards.

Here, Pauwels discusses what's missing from the big data conversation, makes a case for aggregate data over individual data, and provides advice on how marketers can make better sense of their increasingly tech-oriented responsibilities.

What are marketers missing when it comes to data?

When you talk about branding, people always bring up Apple. Smaller companies say, “Well, we can't be like Apple, so let's not even try.” [Similarly,] everybody looks at the big shining examples of big data: the Internet companies. A lot of folks look at the hype and see these shining case studies and can't relate. The big data hype is actually alienating many marketers. With big data, there's a lot of benefit in analyzing the data you have.

What are some ways marketers can leverage data outside of what may seem apparent?

A lot the application has been in the digital arena; the data consumers give to banks or phone companies. This is data that can be used to track people and there's a ton of privacy issue there. Most of the data you can get at the more aggregate level is going to be much less annoying [for consumers] and much more useful.

There's a car company that lets consumers build their own car on its website. People just put in their Zip Code and make a car. At the end the company asks for emails and most people probably just leave. However, the company still has the ZIP Codes. They can see that these models are in demand in this area, or these features in that area. You don't need millions of individual data points if you can work on an aggregate level like this.

Speaking of privacy, what's your take on the relationship between data and privacy compliance?

There is a lot of privacy that I'm personally ready to give up as long as I trust the company, and actually see them using my data to give me better solutions. I'm happy to keep cookies on if, at the end, I get more relevant advertising. Privacy is important, but I think a lot of people are willing to trade some for better solutions.

Of course, what I see is a lot of companies that continue to serve me ads that have nothing to do with me and I think that's where consumers begin to get annoyed. Companies should be clearer about how they're going to use our data and what they are using it for. They should let consumers select how much data they want to give and who it goes to.

What about when consumers don't want to give up data?

It's the same deal we had 20 years ago with relationship marketing. Brands want relationships with me, but I only want a relationship with particular brands. For the rest of the brands, I'm very happy to just be an anonymous customer. I don't want them to know about me and I don't want them to send me emails. I just want to be their customer.

How can marketers get a better handle on data without getting too deep into tech, or do they need to be more tech savvy?

Marketers need to know what types of solutions are out there so they can evaluate when people try to sell them to you. You don't need software, you need courage and vision.

I use an analogy of a dashboard in my book. When you're driving a car you don't have to know exactly how the engine works. You don't have to know how many little explosions are going on in there. You do have to understand the metrics on the dashboard in front of you; things like speed and fuel levels. You have to understand that if you put your foot on the gas pedal then speed will increase. You don't have to be a technician to understand this.
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