Why you should think twice about data collection

Posted By Iain Pemberton on 17th September 2015

If some commentators are to be believed, it’s never been a better time to be a marketing professional, as in today’s digitally-focused era, learning what your customers want should be easier than ever.

Whether it’s listening in on social media conversations, monitoring people’s browsing and purchase history or understanding what their everyday activities may be through tracking their smartphone location, the wealth of information available today can help build up a detailed, unique picture of an individual.

However, while the use of data to help refine marketing messaging is hardly new, the scale of the collection that many companies are engaging in today, combined with a lack of clarity about exactly how this information is used, can lead to problems. Indeed, the reaction to several recent privacy and security stories should serve as a warning to any marketer looking to take advantage of such opportunities.

Whether it’s high-profile hacking incidents or private data being traded between third-parties, people are more aware than ever of how much their personal information is worth, and what the consequences may be if this data is abused.

It’s easy to see why this type of data is valuable to marketing pros – the promise of being able to deliver highly-personalised content that gets right to the heart of what your audience is looking for is hugely tempting, and the results often speak for themselves.

But getting the balance right is a fine line. Time and time again, surveys have warned that consumers tend to be highly distrustful of companies that engage in wide-scale data collection, and are unwilling to hand over their personal details.

This is especially true when it’s not made clear exactly what’s being collected and how it’s used. According to Big Brother Watch, 1.6 million people in the UK have fallen victim to an online privacy violation so far this year, and once a company loses the trust of its customers in this way, it can be impossible to regain it.

Getting to know your audience is one thing, but any such activities need to be carefully carried out so they don’t cross the into being intrusive.