Data-driven marketers need to think like a consumer to win their trust â and business | DMA

Filter By

Show All

Connect to


Data-driven marketers need to think like a consumer to win their trust â and business


How can one-to-one marketers reassure consumers that a) they respect their data and b) there is a genuine value exchange from sharing their data?

To find out, I caught up with Adam Tanner, author of What Stays in Vegas – The World of Personal Data Lifeblood of Big Business – and the end of Privacy as We Know It. He had been at the International Data Privacy Commissioners Meeting in Mauritius and was in London for just 24 hours on his way back to the US. Tanner is a research fellow at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and a journalist who writes about the business of personal data.

So what can data-driven businesses learn from Tanner’s take on data privacy? Quite a lot as it happens because he looks at it from both the business and customer’s perspective, and in so doing offers some valuable insights into the concerns of today’s consumers on what is and isn’t acceptable.

When I meet Tanner in the DMA reception area he’s clutching a copy of the DMA Code, which he’s just picked up and flicked through, and is visibly excited by what he sees. Before we have a chance to start the interview proper, he tells me that the standards the data privacy commissioners were outlining in the Mauritius meeting are right here in our Code. He reads out “Act in accordance with your customer’s expectations” and “Companies are upfront about why they are collecting data and how they intend to use it”.

Tanner assumes the DMA Code is voluntary so when I tell him that all our members have to abide by it, he’s impressed and welcomes this sort of self-regulation. “10 hooligans in a stadium of 50,000 can cast aspersions on the whole crowd”, he says, recognising that a few rogue companies can wreak havoc on the reputation of the industry.

He believes that businesses that choose to ignore consumers’ concerns about their personal data will be the big losers in the end. His central premise and one that he comes back to again and again during the interview is that consumers shouldn’t be surprised about the data that’s collected about them.

“Am I doing something for the customer or to the customer?”
Tanner thinks marketers should put themselves in the shoes of the consumer who wants to know what you are doing with their data and how they will benefit from it. “Ask yourself: Am I doing something for the customer or am I doing something to the customer?”

And the more sensitive the data is, the more cautious businesses should be about using it for marketing purposes. Tanner points to the same line in our Code again: “Act in accordance with your customer’s expectations”. Tanner’s view is that if people weren’t expecting that to happen then it could be uncomfortable.

Don’t alarm, scare or annoy the consumer
Take sensitive data, such as health and sexual behaviour, says Tanner. He uses the example of Adam & Eve, a brand that sells sexual devices and adult entertainment videos, to show how marketing based on sensitive data can make the consumer uncomfortable.

He explains that more women buy adult entertainment items now that they can do so privately online rather than in a physical store, but this doesn’t mean that they would necessarily welcome receiving marketing based on these purchases.

So where is the line? “If I creep you out or discourage you from a relationship with me, I’ve crossed the line. If I have encouraged you or improved the relationship with me, I haven’t,” says Tanner, quoting Acxiom’s former chief strategy and marketing officer Tim Suther, one of the many industry leaders he interviewed for his book.

So how do businesses know if they’re achieving the right balance?
“Apply the Wall Street Journal test,” says Tanner. “If what you were doing [with data] was to be profiled in the media would you be comfortable talking about it in an open way or is it some kind of back room magic you don’t want to talk about?” He stresses that he’s not expecting firms to share business-sensitive information that they don’t want competitors to know but rather “the broad techniques of what they’re doing with customer data”.

Make privacy policies read more like nutritional labels
Consumers need to know what they’re signing up to, which is where a clear, concise privacy policy comes in. Tanner bemoans the fact that many privacy policies are written in legal jargon, “Even top lawyers at Harvard are confused by the legalese in some privacy policies,” he tells me.

Tanner’s solution to this is for businesses to use the privacy equivalent of a nutritional label which answers some of the key questions a consumer may have such as: What data do you gather about me? What do you use it for? What are the benefits of sharing my data? How can I opt out of sharing my data?

He uses the airport WiFi he accessed earlier in the day as an example of how not to do a privacy policy. Agreeing to the terms gave him 10 minutes of internet access but it would have taken him that long to read the privacy policy. “Had there been a highlighted policy, I could have spent 30 seconds reading that and been knowledgeable instead of blindly clicking.”

Tanner likens what’s happening today with data to the early days of car engineering. “Initially you didn’t have seat belts or other safety measures but as the cars became faster and more powerful, they became necessary. It’s the same with data and it can be done in ways that benefit businesses and the consumer.”

Personal data vaults & the empowered consumer of the future
A handful of companies have ventured into the realm of personal data vaults which allow consumers to profit from their data. While Tanner admits that this is still a difficult business proposition, he talks about how such data marketing may work in the future. He sees it as an evolution of the value exchange where a partnership exists between consumers and businesses for their mutual benefit.

“Most consumers’ value to marketers will vary greatly throughout their lifetime. Today you may want to buy a soda and candy but in six months when you want to buy a new car.”

Tanner explains how empowered consumers would let businesses know that they are now in the market for a big-ticket item. This allows brands to target a specific demographic at the precise time they are looking to make a purchase. The consumer, in turn, benefits from money-off or some other kind of benefit. It’s a win-win situation.

Tanner’s prescribed solution to reassure today’s consumers is openness on the part of the data hunters and choice for the data hunted. Think like a consumer and you can’t go wrong.

Hear more from the DMA

Please login to comment.


Related Articles

A telemarketing programme involving hundreds of one-to-one conversations with customers and prospects is the perfect opportunity to perform a thorough proof of concept. It enables you to learn quickly and validate your approach in a systematic, transparent way, so you set off on a better track.

Depositphotos_667828676_S (1).jpg

Economic pressures have plagued households for several years, with brands facing the challenge of engaging consumers who are more budget-conscious than ever before. As a result, brand loyalty has sharply declined, with 61% of consumers being less likely to stick with brands in 2023 compared to 41% in 2022.

Cost of Living Exit Strategy Report 20244

Purple Square’s Tim Biddiscombe interviewed marketing data and tech industry veteran Andy Masters about the essential roles of listening, learning and trust in building holistic and effective customer journeys.

Thumbnail Reimagining CX _Andy Masters 600x400.jpg

When thinking about sustainable marketing, often we think about the channels we use, or materials we use in a physical sense. We overlook things like the audience targeting, data cleanse & optimisation, which have a big impact on minimising wastage.