As technology develops, the ethical and moral questions surrounding the use of data and privacy grow.
Since the advent of the Internet, businesses are quickly gaining new ways to find out information about their consumers.
Marketing automation that includes software that tracks a potential client's "buyer journey" often tracks the customer's every click.
This can be problematic when a customer's privacy is compromised.
Where's the Line?
It is difficult to know where the imaginary line is when it comes to big data and marketing intelligence.
Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to privacy and perceived invasion, and every company has a different approach to collecting and analyzing customer data.
What is certain is that the line does get crossed, as is demonstrated by the infamous Target Corp. scandal, where an analytics program revealed a teenager's pregnancy to her family.
Often, the technology we rely on to gather information on our customers is somewhat out of our control because it is partially or fully automated.
This means that mistakes are made, and ethical questions arise.
It can be difficult to obtain a customer's permission to track their online movement, and it is not necessary, legally, to do so.
While internet users are aware by now that very little on the web is actually private, most users wish to have some form of control over who is seeing their online movement and preferences.
This is why highly targeted ads that appear on a user's screen can be so unsettling.
For example, a user searches google for shoes, and then sees an advertisement for a shoe company ten minutes later on a completely different site.
Society has grown used to this, but it does not make everyone comfortable, and suggests that we are sharing more than we are aware of with big business and advertisers.
Dirty Marketing vs. Permission Marketing
Sometimes the issue isn't privacy, but unfair treatment.
For example, when Orbitz used their analytics results to determine that because Apple computer users tended to spend more on airline tickets, they could show them higher prices.
This sort of discrimination brings up new ethical questions as society gets used to the internet and big data.
How do companies determine what quantifies "dirty" marketing, and how do they avoid it?
Permission is something that has been a factor in marketing for some time.
Permission marketing is the idea that marketing works best when the visitor or customer has given permission to be marketed to.
This might sound too good to be true, but many online users do voluntarily give out their email address in order to access information they find relevant, such as to access an Ebook download or to join a mailing list with content that interests them.
Getting someone's permission does two things:
- It helps to curtail the ethical "big data' issues discussed above and
- It makes the recipient of the marketing campaign more receptive to the content and more likely to pay attention to the campaign since they feel that they freely chose to participate in it.
Arguing that permission marketing is the only ethical marketing may be going too far.
However, it is an idea that is worth considering when it comes to deciding a rule of thumb for interacting with customers and collecting data.
When it comes to playing it safe, allowing customers to direct what they are comfortable sharing is always best.
How Surveys Can Help
This is why surveys are a safe choice for big data collection amongst current customers.
Surveys ask customers to provide declarative data instead of recording tracked data, meaning the customer never shares something they don't want to share.
The fact that the information provided in a survey is provided by the customer himself can be a relief to advertisers who are concerned with breaching ethical standards in their data collection practices.
Survey data is also very accurate and a valid way to acquire leads.
A customer responding in their own words to marketing related questions helps marketers to avoid drawing false conclusions based simply on numbers.
For example, if you use site tracking to measure a potential customer's interest in your product, you may confuse a student doing a research project on your industry with a very interested potential customer.
Both would visit your site often in a short period of time, but for very different reasons.
Surveys allow you to get straightforward, qualitative data about your customers as well as help you to avoid privacy issues.
Whether with surveys or with other mediums of customer-based data collection, it can be surprising how willing customers are to share their information with you when they feel empowered to do so.
Because surveys allow you to craft questions based on the specific type of customer, you can often yield impressive results by asking compelling and relevant questions that spark a customer's interest.
This method of "tracking" customers may be preferable to strictly relying on "click" tracking and impersonal, somewhat sneaky analytics.
Wherever you fall on the big data/privacy debate, it's important to always respect your customers and give them an opportunity to speak for themselves.
Maintaining confidentiality about the data you collect and being vigilant to avoid mistakes is essential when it comes to data collection.
There will always be those who decide not to take the high road, whether by selling data without consent or ignoring "do not track" options when customers select them.
Knowing about alternative data collection strategies can help to keep your data clean.