Why Big Data Means Big Responsibility for CMOs
By: MaryLee Sachs
The CMO’s position in the C-suite hierarchy has been elevated significantly over the past several years, thanks in large part to the rise of big data. With the right data at their fingertips, modern marketers can now target customers with surgical precision, as well as provide CEOs with evidence that their initiatives are working.
And get this: Big data isn’t even all that big yet. At CES earlier this year, it was said that our world produces roughly 43 million terabytes of data every single day. That sounds like a lot, but in 2019 and beyond, we’ll undoubtedly see an explosion in the number of connected devices coming online. As such, the International Data Corporation, a global market intelligence firm, predicts that businesses and consumers will be generating 163 zettabytes of data per year by 2025.
For some marketers, this future can’t get here fast enough. Others, though, might find the possibilities less exciting because of one inescapable reality: All that data doesn’t come without risk.
Please Use Responsibly
This past October, the Association of National Advertisers and other trade bodies launched a new “Data Transparency Label” in an effort to improve consistency in data reporting. As most marketers know, a large number of disparate data sources that often report data in different ways isn’t exactly a marketing panacea, but rather a potential landmine. The new label was created to facilitate the responsible use of consumer data by reputable marketers, as well as improve the consumer experience as it pertains to branded content and advertising.
The move is just one example of how advertisers are attempting to show consumers that they can be trusted with data. Of course, not all consumers are averse to sacrificing privacy in exchange for relevant content delivered at the right time and in the right context. For many, this transaction has become an expectation—and sometimes, it can be tough for marketers to walk the line between meeting consumers where they are and invading their privacy.
For example, a recent study conducted by Selligent Marketing Cloud, which surveyed more than 7,000 consumers around the world, found that 70% of consumers think it’s important that brands understand their customers’ specific situations (such as age, location, and marital status) in order to provide a more customized marketing experience. And a third of consumers say they expect brands to anticipate their needs before they come up. Yet, according to the same survey, only one in five consumers were willing to provide this type of personal data upfront, and 88% were concerned that their data would be shared across companies without their consent. So, while consumers are craving personalized marketing experiences, many are still concerned about the privacy issues surrounding data.
Data is certainly powerful. But like all powerful tools, it must be ushered into society safely and responsibly, and that responsibility rests largely on the shoulders of the marketers who deploy it. For CMOs and other marketing leaders seeking to take advantage of big data in a way that won’t backfire, here are three strategies to keep in mind:
1. Create Some Ground Rules
Visitors to this year’s CES convention probably noticed a huge Apple advertisement overlooking the Las Vegas Convention Center from the side of a nearby hotel. The ad copy read, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,” and its message was clear: Apple won’t sell user data.
While the ad was certainly a shot at rivals Google and Amazon, both of which had a huge presence at the convention, it provides a great example of how brands can approach data management.
Assess your business goals in the context of your organization’s larger mission or vision, and create some simple, unambiguous rules for how you’ll manage consumer data. Draw a line in the sand and clearly define your stance, whatever it may be.
2. Find the Right People
Organizations in virtually every industry will increasingly need to be able to recruit, develop, and retain trained and qualified people who can translate data into relevant actions and insight.
As the regulatory environment around data sharing and usage continues to evolve, it will be especially important to have people on your staff who understand what compliance means now and how you can continue to ensure compliance in the future. These employees must be able to communicate that understanding to every member of the C-suite, as well as to other members of your organization.
3. Analyze and Iterate
In 2019 and beyond, CMOs will likely be asked to present their data management strategies to boards, shareholders, and colleagues. By carefully monitoring your approach on an ongoing basis (and tracking missteps, hurdles, and successes), you’ll be in a position to provide transparent feedback when required. You don’t have to get everything right immediately, but you should be able to demonstrate consistent progress in the way you’re using the data at your disposal.
When it comes to managing consumer data, transparency is critical. As a CMO or marketing leader, you don’t have to know everything about how data is collected and stored, but you must know how it’s used. Moreover, you should be able to communicate your strategy for making the most of data while minimizing risk, knowing that each will be critically important in the months and years ahead.