It's 2015: do you know how your customers feel about data tracking?

We are now in an era of "permission marketing." Consumers are increasingly immune to interruptive marketing: they block online pop-ups, fast forward through advertisements, use email spam filters, and so on.

The most productive campaigns seek the buyer’s permission to engage first. Marketing expert Seth Godin defined “permission marketing” as: 

  • anticipated — people look forward to hearing from you 
  • personal — the messages directly relate to the individual
  • relevant — the marketing relates to something that interests the prospect 

The result is a more amenable state of affairs: buyers will hand over their personal data (“opt-in”) if the messaging they receive in return meets Godin’s litmus test.

A study of 2,000 US and UK consumers (pdf) conducted by Accenture found that the majority of consumers in both countries are willing to have trusted retailers use some of their personal data to present personalized and targeted products, services, recommendations and offers. 

While 86 percent of those surveyed cited concerns about data tracking, 85 percent recognized that tracking enabled retailers to present relevant and targeted content. Notably, almost half (49 percent) said they'd be open to trusted brands tracking their data in return for a personalized experience — relevant recommendations, targeted offers and information on future product availability. When asked to choose between personalized shopping experiences based on previous behavior, or non-personalized experiences in exchange for not tracking their data, 64 percent chose the personalized experience. 

The Cookie Law

Governments have supported and further enabled this paradigm shift. The introduction of the European "Cookie Law" on websites requires EU businesses to inform consumers of what is being gathered, and enables the consumer to choose whether to participate or not. 

The laws apply across the EU, although implemented differently in each country. But in theory, any business that has a website serving customers within an EU country is required to comply with the legislation with respect to those EU visitors, and that country. A US website with UK visitors ought to be asking for consent from those UK visitors according to the UK legislation. 

The inception of the Cookie Law, and other data privacy acts means that individuals are increasingly knowledgeable about what data is being collected and can at times control if they wish that data to be collected at all.

Organizational Responsibility

Not all customer data is equal: some customer data is explicit (i.e. provided intentionally by buyers), some data is implicit (i.e. it has been inferred from known data-points); some data is structured (i.e. held in databases such as Salesforce), some data is unstructured and requires analytics tools to be made actionable within the enterprise. 

Most organizations have a mixture of explicit, implicit, structured and unstructured data, and need it analyzed for lead intelligence. Intelligence doesn't mean just a name or contact details, but also an idea of each prospect’s likely next purchase or an emerging need or interest. Through tracking the digital body language (content consumption and behavior) of identifiable prospects, these organizations will often build up large first party datasets of prospect and customer interests. 

The responsibility for these organizations is not just to create a customer-facing experience that prompts prospects to willingly hand over their personal data, but also to have the systems in place to make sure that the data is stored securely and in line with best practice data security.

Provide Value

Far from the victims of technological sleight-of-hand or obscure laws, buyers have more information than before about what companies learn about them as they use digital channels. And many are willing to relinquish some aspects of privacy, in exchange for marketing that is relevant and meets their unique needs and context. The onus, then, is on the business. Look at how you can best provide utility to buyers and deliver an experience that is worthy of the customer data you are now in a position to collect.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Paul.White