Whose data is it anyway?

MT IN ASSOCIATION WITH ACCENTURE: Personal details are increasingly shared online, so firms are now better able to predict consumer behaviour than ever before.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Andrew Saunders The customer data revolution has been heralded ever since the early days of Tesco’s Clubcard. But people are now willing to share information about themselves online in ways that were unheard of a few years ago, and with that willingness comes issues of trust and privacy. People are now starting to ask questions about how their data is used and by whom. And the potential for brand damage as a result of failing to live up to customer promises made or falling foul of privacy concerns is great. So has the data revolution finally arrived?

Martina King I think it has, yes. We can collect and store tons of data, and businesses have also learned how to access that data and get insights from it. Now we’re in the next stage and there’s something of a mathematical revolution taking place, which is enabling us to extract far greater meaning from that data. At Featurespace we have the ability to understand the behaviour of individuals and compare that against groups. And it enables us to predict what those people are going to do next.

Sam Barnett Of course the revolution is happening now. Businesses make billions of decisions every day, and that’s only possible through storing data in clever ways. At Struq, we’re a technology platform which drives sales to ecommerce advertisers through personalised ads on websites like Facebook. But the problem we have is a talent problem. Data engineers are like gold dust, and you’re competing against the likes of Amazon and Facebook, which will pay them five times the money. So, yes, the big-data revolution is here but businesses have a real problem attracting and retaining talent.

Simon Longhurst The sales leaders who we work with have been looking to balance the art and science of sales since the mid-1990s. The ability to do that seems to have finally arrived and we’re seeing increasingly analytical approaches in sales today.

Nina Bhatia What’s changed is active customer participation in the use of the data. Data used to be collected over time, then analysed. Now people are interacting with a brand over social media, and firms can monitor that in real time. I’m the MD of a business in British Gas called Connected Homes. We look after gas and boilers and energy, and home services like plumbing, but we are also developing products that help you sync your life to your home. For example, we’re creating a product that means you can control your heating remotely from your smartphone. We’ve found that customers are happy for us to use their data if it benefits them, for example, by giving them a more accurate reading of their energy bills.

Andrew Saunders To work together, developments in technology and consumer willingness have to move along at a similar pace.

Martina King If anything, that’s the problem. The existing systems out there haven’t kept pace with consumers’ expectations.

Simon Longhurst Major mobile device manufacturers are already signalling that their next products will anticipate user needs, queuing up applications, news feeds and so on just before we need them. They will do this based on tracking our typical usage behaviours.

Stephan Shakespeare At Yougov, we focus on describing change as it happens, which allows you to replace other kinds of research that are retrospective. In a traditional advertising campaign, for example, you’d write the campaign, create a brief and test it; then you’d sit back and wait to see what happens. Now we can follow the effect of a campaign in real time, through Facebook, Twitter and blogs. This means brand owners can change their media buying in real time. And if necessary, they can change the pitch. Our data is structured and focused on what a particular company needs. But market research is an amazingly conservative industry and most companies are still not in a position to respond to immediate data. For many companies, continuous data is a pain in the neck because it requires so much change.

Vince Mitchell Let’s not overgeneralise. There are certain companies which are in fast-changing markets. Think of Zara, which changes its product lines every two weeks – it’s got to deliver new clothes and marketing messages frequently. But if you’re a company like Rolls-Royce, I’m not too sure that you need daily brand tracking. There are different ways of solving an unseen problem would be my argument. If you had better sales people feeding back or better internal mechanisms, you don’t need every-day brand tracking surveys.

Stephan Shakespeare But I would say even stable clients need it. There are com-panies that we’ve worked for which have had a very slow but continuous decline in customer satisfaction. That’s not measurable by traditional means. If you see it every quarter, you don’t know what’s going on. If you look at it every day, you have much higher confidence that small differences are real.

Martina King We’ve got access to such a lot of data sets now that it can be incredibly noisy. You’ve segmented your customer base into so many pieces that only a machine can provide answers. In some respects, we’ve got to the stage where the human brain can’t cope. It’s got to be a machine that is providing the answer.

Rachel Barton With many of these situ-ations, the key is how quickly companies can react. It doesn’t matter how good the data is – it’s how quickly you’re able to analyse it and cascade it throughout the entire brand. Volume, velocity and value are the defining attributes of big data. But how do you capture that in a way that delivers real commercial value to your organisation? You must influence customers’ behaviour fast enough before they leave, and that’s the really hard bit.

Sam Barnett The skills needed for marketing are changing now. Marketers used to be these creative guys. Now, more and more have maths degrees. Marketers need a skill set which is more analytical and can analyse databases to make quick decisions. Organisations which are data driven are the ones that will thrive in the future because of the way the market’s evolving.

Rachel Barton The trick will be to do that and still retain the respect of the rest of the organisation – product development and sales and service – so that when data-driven decisions are made by the marketers, they actually cascade into something that is actionable throughout the organisation.

Martina King I think we’re going to see a big change in the creative services industry. If you look at how the marketing process works now, it relies on finding a representative target audience that is a proxy of the real audience. So it’s creating messages based on assumptions. In the future, you’re going to be able to create different marketing messages targeted at individuals because you can monitor in real time. Technological advancements will provide marketers with the opportunity to talk to customers at an individual level.

Rachel Barton But you can get so targeted and so personalised in a marketing sense that the organisation lets the customer down in a sales or service capacity. You’ve lost the richness of harvesting that insight. You’ve got to be able to harness it across every touch-point where the customer is interacting with the organisation. Unless you can truly do that, the value is suddenly diminished. And that’s very, very hard for organisations to do, because, even now, the seamlessness between service and marketing is not great.

Nina Bhatia I do believe that we are at a pivot point, but it’s too easy to talk about products and marketing as if they’re always driven by data, and about individuals who welcome analytics. Not every product is digital: take domestic boilers, for example. The value from big data there is in remote diagnostics or predictive data. Maintaining your boiler is easier and cheaper if I don’t have to send an expensive engineer out to you every time, for example. That’s all cost, which will reflect in the price you charge customers. This predictive product development is potentially hugely valuable to the customer.

Stephan Shakespeare We’re talking mostly about commercial data here, but the Government is also getting very excited about its own data. The next big job is to attach all that – health and education data and tax, for example – to commercial data as well. That government data is the most coherent data there is because of the way it is collected, and it’s representative of everybody. I chair the government Data Strategy Review Board and have written a review on this. It is all going to be available at some point in the future and it will all be connectible – people will build things off the back of it and policy outcomes will be very much faster. And Britain has the chance to be the number one in this because we have an advanced public sector. There is real enthusiasm for doing something.

Andrew Saunders To move on to trust, people are increasingly aware that their data has a use and a value. But they’re not so aware about how it’s being used and that can cause problems. What’s the trick to using this data but doing it in a way which takes the customer with you?

Sam Barnett Lots of people do find the idea of being tracked online via a cookie an uncomfortable experience. Some choose to opt out of our customised ads, but those opt-out rates are declining rapidly. For an ad we recently ran serving 35 million people across the UK, France and Germany, only 59 people in total chose to opt out, which is extraordinarily low. And of the people that do opt out of Struq, many end up coming back because they realise that they’d rather have personalised advertising. As people become more educated in understanding cookies and how their data is being used, they are far more comfortable and prefer seeing a personalised ad.

Nina Bhatia There will always be people who don’t take to things – and it’s not always the older ones. It’s a mistake to say it’s a generational issue. It’s about choice at the end of the day. But if you provide something that people value, they won’t mind. Research at British Gas shows that 90% of people aren’t too concerned about privacy issues if they feel they’re getting a better service in return. If they benefit, then big data or small data, it’s irrelevant.

Simon Longhurst I’d agree with this – it’s all about a fair exchange of value. If my meters were being monitored then I would very much value the comparison with similar households. It’s almost applying game theory to consumer behaviour and I would use that comparative data to figure out how I can get more value from my contract.

Nina Bhatia Exactly. If you opt in to smart metering, you get a breakdown of your own energy usage based on data you’ve chosen to provide. You can then get comparisons against your street; and the more information you share, the more precise that figure will be. But it’s a choice – if you don’t want to share your information, you don’t have to.

Andrew Saunders Of course it’s right to offer people the choice, but it does strike me that it’s going to become a full-time job for those who do want to manage their privacy.

Martina King Privacy has been consigned to history. The generation behind me has no problem with privacy at all. But it’s because of wider changes in society. You walk down the street and CCTV cameras are monitoring you all the time. Smartphones are like another eye, too. Facial recognition means I will be able to point my device at you and your data will pop up. If you’re posting on Facebook and your data is public, then I’ll be able to find it just walking down the street.

Vince Mitchell But there are unforeseen consequences to privacy being dead. People are freely giving up their privacy but later on regretting it. Employers are checking the Facebook profiles of potential new recruits. I think there’s going to be a backlash to that and privacy will come back into fashion.

Rachel Barton What you think is cool to share online when you’re 18 isn’t the same as what you think is cool when you’re 25. So, I think privacy is definitely important and there are even organisations that will clean someone’s online profile. Privacy is handled differently by country and that is a challenge for global organisations, as it often falls to a lowest common denominator approach.

Stephan Shakespeare But privacy is a modern invention. Not being private is how humanity has been for most of its existence. I’d prefer to hang on to my privacy too, but it’s actually an unnatural state. Everything about human beings – the gestures, the eye contact – is designed to broadcast information about ourselves to other people. That’s how we’re made. You can’t stop people from giving themselves away.  mt

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