Big data vs consumer trust

Big data is becoming a fact of life for marketers, but how will people's attitudes to giving away their personal data affect brands' ability to gather and use it, and how can consumers' trust be earned?

The big problem with big data

The award for marketing effort of the year goes to those selling big data. Long gone seems the cynicism about privacy and protection and instead we herald a new chapter, where big could indeed be beautiful. It's a turnaround, and one that opens up a whole new conversation for just about every business on the planet.

This is much more than CRM+

Before we jump too far, it's important to recognise that comprehension of big data is low, with too many people - agencies take note - thinking that this is simply about an advancement in CRM and customer data. In truth, it's some of that, but it's actually a much more profound progression.

The internet and smartphones are changing everything, through their ability to turn our every move into some form of data. Your location, likes, the number of steps you take in a day, all have the potential to create a data profile. Google something and a very clever computer somewhere can look for and search out global trends related to that entry. It's how the World Health Organisation is measuring the spread of global viruses, in real time. Property developers and supermarkets are installing digital panels into the floors of new buildings to work out the "dead space", and in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is giving data away to advance the city-wide volunteering effort. It's now bubbling up in the UK: read @StephanShaxper and his excellent work on public attitudes to open data. This is a genuine tipping point, which has many transfixed.

Arise the scientist 

So, that conversation about CMOs in five years time having a greater technology budget than the CIO is probably not entirely hyperbole. At a functional level, it will become bad for business to have several unaggregated, poorly constructed, poorly connected databases. In truth, though, even sorting that out will soon be just hygiene. Businesses will be differentiated by those that do big data and those that wish they did it.

To make that happen, we will all need our equivalent of @fivethirtyeight - whose book The Signal And The Noise is brilliant, by the way. Our very own data czar who looks at things in a totally different way, more correlation than causation. It's an invitation to the geek in all of us.

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But the fundamentals remain fundamental

And yet, in our positive state of anticipation, we should not lose sight of the single most-important factor when considering this opportunity: that we have an uneasy relationship with data and those who collect and use it. Think about it. How many times do you punch the air when you tick that third-party please-sell-me-everything-and-give-all-my-details-to-everybody-you-know box? The truth is that big data will need a big sell. Despite the fact that the positives are clear - 58% of people think brands and businesses should make more use of their data - we may just fall for the oldest trick in the book, which is to try to hoodwink the public into allowing us to obtain, analyse and use their data when they actually don't want us to.

Let the transformation begin

Brands will need real, active and informed consent to fuel innovation in the way they use the data.

Two things strike me. First, big data is potentially a transformative step forward, for the behavioural economists, all the way through to those creating Google Glass. But the big problem is the fact that only 5% of us trust businesses to look after our personal data. This figure will need to grow as the advancement will need to be a two-way thing. Brands will need real, active and informed consent to fuel innovation in the way they use the data. One big scandal or high-profile cover-up and we will be right back to where we started.

The second thing, which is probably where the transformation lies, is that 16- to 24-year-olds have a very different attitude to trusting brands and business with their data. They have grown up giving it away to big global businesses in a way that previous generations didn't. Working with them, to understand how they can contribute, will go a long way to working out just what the future holds.

Get these two bits right and this thing really might change the world.

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