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Marketers are hungry for customer data. Every piece of information about a customer and their interactions with a brand helps marketers create complete customer profiles and guide the ultimate strategy behind the sell. From methodically timing each touchpoint with a potential lead, to personalizing digital content on a website to show each unique visitor what they’d most like to see, the link between data and marketing decisions is undeniable.

But this data isn't always readily available, and customers are hesitant to provide brands with the personal information needed to create this free exchange of profiling and personalizing. The reason is simple -- customers don’t see the value in sharing data.

Balancing The Equation

We've done a horrible job as marketers at positioning the benefits of data sharing. The value exchange equation of personalization is weighted too heavily towards brands -- and the data opportunities for marketers -- not towards the customers.

The industry needs to shift this thinking on data, and help customers see that sharing is a crucial step towards a better online user experience. With data, you give what you get. It’s a trade that allows customers to discover new and wonderful things online, tailored to their unique wants and needs. If we can articulate that value for customers, ultimately shifting the value exchange equation, this will unlock new potential for personalization and the use of data online.

Past Problems

We need to start by atoning for the data problems of the past. Too many marketers are using the wrong data to create horribly inaccurate customer profiles, leading to a misfire of content personalization techniques. One of the biggest mistakes marketers can make is using a content personalization tool that only looks at a site visitor’s most recent activity online. 

Customers are dynamic, and should be profiled as such. Site visitors are constantly searching and shopping online for different people, occasions and information. Most people have a diverse record of online activity, and a single outlier doesn’t always signify future interest. We need a more holistic view of buying habits and history.

These data issues of marketing’s past have left a sour taste in the mouths of customers, who get turned off to personalization and data exchange when they continually see inaccurate content and advertisements. Marketers need to get smarter about how they use data and prove that personalization is worth it before customers will feel comfortable.

Transparency

Marketers also need to be more transparent about the methods behind the madness. Today, marketers collect data in a black box, analyze it behind closed doors, then spit back information they believe to be “personally curated” to the site visitor. The mystery of what data is used for what purpose creates an air of mistrust between consumer and brand. Marketers need to get honest with consumers about what is being used, how it's being used and where they should expect the results of this data to appear. This might customers shed any feelings on data use as a violation of privacy.

Imagine if you could see exactly why a website was featuring a pair of size seven winter boots -- your location is set to Vermont, and your previous buying history shows that you consistently purchase size seven shoes. Relevant offers and content like this would be more expected and welcome, instead of a creepy sign that big brother is watching. If customers could easily pick which data is shared for which purposes, incentive to willingly share would be even higher. 

There is plenty of work to be done to educate the consumer, improve our track record of data-driven marketing, and create a higher comfort level with data sharing and personalization. For now, articulate the value of personalized content to the consumer, and help them become more comfortable with the different ways their data is used.​

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