Data has the power to build or burn brands

Lucy Acheson

Lucy is the head of data strategy and customer experience at customer experience agency, LIDA. Clients include Commonwealth Bank, Lexus, CommSec and NRMA.

A brand can be severely wounded by use or misuse of any of its assets and you could say data has the greatest power of all to inflict damage.

On the flipside, best-in-class data use can create a brand and build an army of future-proofed advocates: The ideal outcome for every modern marketer. But ensuring you achieve the latter instead of the former in this age of data breaches and dirty data dealings isn’t a simple feat.

In 2016, when the global data sphere was a little less tarnished, the Accenture Love Index found Amazon, Netflix and YouTube – all heavy data users – were in the top five most loved brands. If we asked this question again today, the affection for these megalithic data brands might be somewhat reduced.

Even my mother was appalled at Facebook’s data breaches in the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. While she’s still hyperactive on the platform, one study found 9 per cent of Americans say they have deleted their Facebook account altogether over privacy concerns while 35 per cent say they're using the platform far less.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe this is a “meaningful” number. Personally, if I lost 10 per cent of my customers overnight and a further 35 per cent of them stopped using my service, I’d be actioning a very substantial win-back strategy.

The people behind the data

But forget about data for a minute and think about the people behind it.

My concern is that in the last 30 years, data has been captured, stored and used by brands with little or no thought about the fact that it represents real people; people who could be severely harmed or alarmed through incorrect targeting or misuse.

Luckily, a major breach is rare but incorrect use of data is happening more frequently.

Just last week, I received a letter from a car insurer. At first, I was quite charmed as no one sends letters anymore. Inside, I found information detailing the brand’s newly relaunched app and a reminder of the loyalty benefits I would receive as a valued customer.

This was when the alarm bells went off.

I cancelled my insurance with this provider years ago and so began panicking, worried I had been paying two sets of insurance. The letter, it turns out, was from the insurer’s roadside assist department which I also cancelled a while back. Heart attack over, I threw it in the bin and thought, ‘Oops’.

Analysing my feelings afterwards, I don't hate the brand, but nor do I love it. I now think very little of the business. And as every marketer knows, no emotion from people is the worst place in the world to be.

Think about the impact

Let’s not put the formidable martech stack at the centre of every marketing team in charge. We need to ensure the data we capture is ethically sourced and responsibly maintained while being open and transparent about what the brand is up to.

As someone who captures and turns complex data into crisp insights for a living, I stress the need to assess and then capture only what we need, creating a more transparent, symbiotic and mutually beneficial data ecosystem.

If we don't take care, consumers will revolt by withholding all data or asking to be removed from a brand's memory. If that happens, our public, private and professional lives will be altered irrevocably and not in a good way.

Brands that get it right and use data in exquisitely insightful ways build genuinely strong and enduring relationships with consumers. Some examples include Nike, no longer an apparel brand, but a global sports data superpower. Stitch Fix, these new kids on the block are now the data scientists of fashion. And who isn’t impressed by IBM's skin cancer detection capability for Watson?

When used carefully, data has the power to transform brands into icons, making business grow like never before. But we must never forget where – or who – that data is coming from.

Tags: Facebook, digital marketing, data analytics, data-driven marketing

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