The Information Technology revolution has produced a revolution in the volume, variety and velocity of data that can be collected, analyzed and made useful to marketers at relatively low cost. Like it or not, ‘big data’ is a cresting wave on the sea of the Internet of Things… and People. There is much to be excited and anxious about.
The IDC reports that 3,000 exobytes of data were created in 2012 and each year this amount is set roughly double. And this data clearly creates the potential for significant innovation in economy.
Reports by the World Economic Forum, McKinsey Global Institute and others describe the potential benefits for health care, government services, fraud protection, retailing, manufacturing and other sectors. McKinsey estimates that big data and analytics could yield benefits for health care alone of more than $300 billion annually. Gains for the overall economy could be up to $610 billion in annual productivity and cost savings.
Yet, Facebook’s announcement last October about new social science guidelines and a review board for data research projects is the latest evidence of a new truth. According to Trevor Hughes and Omer Tene, “Legal compliance and sound security practices are not enough to meet societal expectations of privacy.”
But what does this mean for cross-channel marketers trying to integrate personal and non-personal data in cross-channel campaigns? What’s changed? What will a post-cookie world look like?
To borrow an observation by Seth Godin, “The internet was supposed to homogenize everyone by connecting us all. Instead what it’s allowed is silos of interest.” Not only do today’s brand marketers need to contend with a torrent of fragmented data, they need to navigate a complex set of international data protection laws and regulations alongside of evolving consumer expectations to privacy.
Marketers can now associate personal information with device IDs, demographic attributes, inferred propensities, location data, social sentiment, behavioral and other contextual attributes. This creates more fine-grained information about an individual even if that individual is not known by name. Also, ubiquitously generated meta-data is often collected by disparate parties across a variety of online and offline, active and passive interactions. All of these interactions and linkage scenarios need to be carefully considered.
Challenges may also arise when governing laws are too inflexible or industry codes of practice not flexible enough (yet) to accommodate emerging targeting techniques. One example is how the NAI’s cookie-based opt-out technology doesn’t quite map to cookie-less mobile environments. Although… they’re working on bridging the gap with new “Beyond Cookie” guidelines expected in early 2015.
On a more visceral level, ‘Big data’ is shifting defaults around how we interact with one another and how we broker the issue of trust. For example, “publicly available” does not necessarily mean “accessible to all,” yet advances in information technology are making data more accessible to data miners, brokers and marketers. Similarly, the notion of “anonymity” is changing. As an example, a mobile device ID in and of itself is not personally identifiable information, yet it is also not truly anonymous.
One important and ongoing debate concerns ‘big data’ insights leading to potential discriminatory outcomes and invasions of privacy. Joseph Turow’s thesis on how companies define your worth online speaks to growing anxiety over inadvertent social discrimination. Regulators and international privacy advocates are also increasingly focusing on ways in which to manage concerns and shore up consumer awareness and cross-industry accountability programs. Brands are being encouraged to ask tough questions about their data practices. Who owns this data? What can I do with it? Who can I share it with? What changes when I combine X, Y and Z?
The path to ROI in a cross-channel, cross-border and cross-screen world is no longer as simple as load, segment and blast. There are eddies of innovation and under-currents of intent, vortexes of excitement and anxiety, and of course rogue waves on the sea of context. The wave of information is cresting and we can expect to see the debate over its impact intensify in 2015.