Who Really “Owns” Customer Data?

Marketers have an advantage in the wealth of data available to them. No piece of customer information is far from a marketer’s reach these days. But one ambiguous aspect of customer data is who should “own” it. Who’s responsible for its integration and availability? What about its security? Is it marketing, the team that converts all this data to actual insight? Is it IT, the group that develops and maintains the databases? Is it legal, the people who handle the fallout when issues arise with data usage or procurement?

“They all own it, but we’ve got to get everybody to cooperate,” Bruce Biegel, senior managing director at Winterberry Group, told attendees at the Direct Marketing News 2014 Marketing&Tech Partnership Summit. “This is about partnership. This is about cooperation. This is not about ownership.”

According to Biegel, data governance and security is an enterprise issue that transcends individual silos. However, “these responsibilities are often at odds with marketers,” he said.

Consider the ramifications of a security breach similar in magnitude to the recent Target debacle. Generally speaking, that would qualify as an IT problem. However, when legal clamps down and institutes company-wide policy regarding customer data, those policies often have marketing ramifications.

So, what should marketers do? They should understand data ownership, but they should also respect and understand the data process and the differences between different data sets. “There are two types of data like there are two types of wine,” Biegel explained. “Wine you like and wine you don’t like. PII data and anonymous data.” Marketers know exactly who the target customer is with PII (personally identifiable information), while anonymous data is, well, anonymous. However, even leveraging anonymous data incorrectly can place marketers in precarious positions that could cost their company millions of dollars.

Marketers only have one real option: collaboration. “The problem is these silos,” Biegel said. Not only should marketers foster and nurture a collaborative relationship with IT, but they also should include legal as early in the process as possible. “They’re the ones who understand what’s going on in Washington and on the regulatory landscape,” Biegel said.

Working with, instead of against, legal gives marketers something of a prophylactic advantage in when it comes to ethical and effective data usage. Before any type of security or privacy issues arise, collaboration should ensure that marketers are educated enough about the legal nuances of customer data collection and use to clearly identify what data can be used for what Biegel cites as the four key customer data use cases: attribution, insight, optimization, and targeting.

Armed with this knowledge, and with legal in their corner, marketers can more effectively collaborate with IT to find actionable data to inform their strategies and campaigns. The temptation to simply bypass IT entirely and use cloud-based marketing automation to do this is strong. However, marketers who do will not find success, according to Biegel.  “At some point that marketing technology needs to plug back in to the data sources,” he said. “IT is the best partner for this.”

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