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The Creep Line

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How marketers can know if they've crossed the line with personal data.

The Creep Line
The Creep Line

There's a constant push for marketers to provide customers with even more personalized, relevant, valuable experiences with brands. Of course, it's customer info—those personal details—that make that happen. In fact, there seems to be this insatiable demand for customer data. But as marketers try to craft the ultimate multichannel experience for consumers, there remains an underlying question: When have marketers crossed over from being personal to just plain creepy and intrusive? Weighing in on the topics of trust, Big Data, and security in this lucid Q&A are Andrew Delamarter, director of search and inbound marketing at Huge, and Jon Gibs, VP of analytics for the digital marketing agency.

Q: There's this ongoing discussion about “The Creep Line”—the benchmark where brand marketers have gone too far with customer data. Can you define that line?

Jon Gibs: I don't think we can. I think that's one of the reasons we're doing this work [on a current research project at Huge], and it's one of the reasons we're holding this panel, tonight. It may be cliché to say this, but you know [the creep line] when you see it. But one of the things that [researchers for Huge] are finding is how different segments [of people] interpret the lines for different brands. Some people have a lower threshold than others, and that impacts how they interact with brands. Of course, different types of brands are given different leniency. We're still trying to determine what creates the sensitivity, but we've discovered [in our research at Huge] it's not demographics—namely race, age, or geography. It's more how people think or tick.

Q: So is there ever a point where brand marketers are collecting too much data?

Gibs: In my mind it's not the collection of data that's an issue. It's the use of that data, the security around that data, and of course the value exchange with the user. And when I say ‘value exchange,' I mean the user has to get some value out of giving up their data. In other words, I'm getting something back for giving you my data. If that value exchange doesn't exist, then that's when things become much more problematic. That's when it can move into a place where consumers are being taken advantage of.

Andrew Delamarter: Yeah, it's more what [marketers] do with that data that may turn people off. One of the things that's pushing this [topic] to the forefront is the strategies of remarketing and behavioral targeting—even display ads [that are] online. The ROI on these are actually very positive for marketers; marketers are tempted by the ROI. But at a certain point you don't want to begin to stalk customers if that display ad is chasing them around the Web and on different devices. Marketers can creep out even those who are aware of these strategies. It'll be interesting [during the next few years] to see if marketers restrain themselves or if they go overboard and deal with a backlash.

Q: Obviously, there's been a lot of talk in the media about data breaches in recent months. And whether that security breach happened at your company or another, marketers are affected across several industries. So how can marketers gain trust back once the trust is broken?

Gibs: You know one of the initial findings we've had in our [ongoing research project on data privacy at Huge] is that even though people say privacy is the most important thing that a digital brand can provide them, they'll report high amounts of satisfaction and trust with brands that have relatively low [data] privacy ratings.

Delamarter: Yeah, I'm not sure [customers] blame the brands. They realize these systems [have some vulnerabilities]. Let me tell you. My credit card [with a particular bank] has been stolen nine times. It's ridiculous. But I still do business them. There's this spreading awareness [among customers] that maybe it's not the brand's fault and [an understanding] that even the best systems can be broken into.

Q: Who's more concerned about data privacy: marketers or consumers?

Gibs: I would actually say there's a third group—the media. It's very newsworthy when you hear about a big company taken down by some anonymous hackers. Gets a lot of attention. But in truth, [data breaches] often make more of an impact on storytelling than true impact on an individual or specific brand. However, the media is creating an awareness [among customers], which isn't a bad thing.

Delamarter: Yeah, I agree. Obviously, I'm personally concerned about [data security]. I don't see a lot of impact on business from [these breaches], and I don't see a lot of concern [from customers] about them either. But that doesn't mean people won't begin to think about this in the future, and [breaches] do pose a risk. Smart brands and marketers need to be thinking about this or it will get worse, especially as we move into an era with the Internet of Things. Big Data is only going to get bigger.

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