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July 10, 2020

By: Shravya Kaparthi, Director, Analytics and Decision Sciences, RAPP Dallas

The 2010s was defined by data’s potential. It was even dubbed the “decade of data,” which makes sense: Everyone had high hopes for the future of big data. It was seen as the key to unlocking every insight brands and marketers ever wanted.

Data entered boardrooms with real-time dashboard analysis, it created a new need for more information analysts, and it made companies feel like they were keeping up. Data also made technology smarter with new capabilities thanks to the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence. We as individuals became comfortable with becoming data ourselves, as all of our smartwatches, phones, and other devices keep tabs on everything from our heartbeats to our search behaviors.

But data use — and our collective comfort with it — has begun to change. This will continue throughout the 2020s. We’ve become more aware of what companies want with our personal data, and our guards are up.

Mistrusting Big Data

To underscore that point, data intentions are the most important thing for a company to prioritize if they want to keep business. A whopping 84% of individuals have decided against doing business with companies that asked for too much personal information. In this decade, savvy companies will prioritize data privacy by letting people know how they use data and by creating opt-in buttons for consumers to share their information willingly. This will lead to insights from data that’s collected properly; companies will create true data-driven customer experiences as a result.

Most important, companies increasingly will become advocates for good data practices. Change is time-consuming but inevitable with the future of data. Advocates will help others start using data the right way by standing up for the individuality of consumers and other stakeholders.

If we don’t act soon, however, the change to wholly ethical data usage will be difficult for companies and painful for consumers. An opinion piece in the New York Times by Shoshana Zuboff does a deep dive into this looming problem and names it “surveillance capitalism.” She says, “[It] begins by unilaterally staking a claim to private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Our lives are rendered as data flows.”

We are already seeing the consequences of this through the misuse of data. Remember the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook, which involved tweaked newsfeeds and apps sharing personal data with other apps and companies without consent. Company data breaches also are becoming more frequent. Owning data is a major responsibility, but multiple companies have found themselves in compromised positions.

Fitness app Polar, for example, suffered a data leak scandal that exposed spy and military personnel locations even after those individuals adjusted their location settings to private. Not even government databases are safe from leaks and ethical implications. India’s biometric database of all Indian citizens, Aadhar, has controversially collected fingerprints, retina scans, and face photos of 89% of India’s population.

Fixing the Issues With Big Data Practices

There is a way to curb these problems. We can start by prioritizing ethical data use right now as marketers. Here are a few strategies to build a good data culture:

  1. Be Good and Do Well

Businesses need to engage in truly clean business data practices. Data is a journey, not a destination. It demands a certain culture that everyone is involved in — it’s not just about IT teams or governmental regulations. We need people who will acknowledge data privacy as a basic human right and foster a culture of good practices surrounding it.

To begin using data in your organizational thinking, start with what you already have access to, such as behavioral or transactional data. Then determine what gaps data can fill. How will you get that data? Consider the possibilities and rank them by quality of their practice through the lens of morality/ethics. Use the best practices possible and be smart about the data you collect to create what you need. Finally, protect the data that’s collected. It’s somebody else’s private information on the line, which makes it a greater responsibility.

  1. Not All Data or Media Channels Are Created Equal

Do not collect data for the sake of it — not all data is relevant. It’s important to have a clear data vision and plan of action with respect to its usage. To accomplish any of this, you have to know what data you own. Create a long-term plan to understand gaps and opportunities in your company’s data journey in order to guide you in what you need from other parties involved.

Media channels have changed to keep up with all of the data. For instance, direct mail and traditional television, which seemed almost obsolete a while ago, have evolved and adapted to become a lot smarter and more real-time.

Use the data you have about your fiercely individual consumers and pick a media strategy that is truly relevant to them. Optimize your organization’s good data culture by spending as much time on the using all the smart data in crafting a dynamic customer journey powered by relevant media engines as you have on the data collection.


  1. Invest in Opting-In Strategies

People are seeking experts’ advice. Whether it’s for buying a home, leasing a car, or looking for recipes, people want help from others who have done this before. Especially now, working parents who are suddenly expected to double as teachers for their stay-at-home children are flocking to the internet in droves to learn tips and glean advice. Businesses that speak to those audiences have a tremendous opportunity to gain brand advocates in this uncertain time, simply by providing information that people seek.

Brands need to have patience and invest time in earning individuals’ trust, plus give them solid reasons as to why they should share data with you. By doing so, a brand will earn lifelong consumers. Marketers need to implement this thinking now within their companies and departments, pushing them ahead of what’s to come.

Without a doubt, good data practices and being able to meet the future of big data analytics will continue to be crucial to doing good business and keeping great customers — for the next decade and beyond.

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