The growing importance of technology in our era, has a high impact on the ethical and moral questions surrounding the use of data and privacy.
Since the advent of the Internet, businesses are increasingly finding new ways to collect data and find information about their consumers.
Marketing automation, including software that's tracking a potential client's "buyer journey", often tracks the customer's every click. This becomes problematic if a customer's privacy is compromised.
Where's the limit, in order to respect your customers?
It's a fine line when it comes to big data and marketing intelligence, which makes it a difficult topic to tackle sometimes.
Everyone has a different level of comfort when it comes to privacy and perceived invasion, but every company also has a different approach to collecting and analyzing customer data.
What's certain is that the line does get blured and crossed at times, 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 can get somewhat out of our control, because it is partially or fully automated.
This means you can't exclude that some mistakes can occur, and therefore, it's normal that ethical questions arise.
It can be difficult to obtain a customer's permission to track their online movement. While internet users are aware by now that very little existing information on the web is actually private, users want 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 website.
In today's era, customers are mostly used to these type of things happening, but it doesn't make it any more comfortable and serves as a reminder that every information shared, is being memorised and used out there.
You must keep in mind that most customers don't really understand how the whole marketing machinery works behind the scenes, this is what makes it a bit "scary" to them and can lead them to be reluctant in sharing their information.
Someone who doesn't understand what's being done with their information, or why, will automatically question if what they're getting is worth what they're giving. A lack of knowledge will potentially blur their judgment, so when you want to collect information, make sure they understand how this is actually going to help them get a better customer experience.
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The secret to collect data: Dirty Marketing vs. Permission Marketing
Sometimes the issue isn't necessarily 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.
These types of discriminations bring up new ethical questions, as society gets used to the internet and big data.
How do companies determine what quantifies "dirty" marketing, and how can they avoid it? Asking for permission is definitely a determining aspect in marketing.
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 actually, 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" issue discussed above
- It makes the recipient of the marketing campaign more receptive to the content and more likely to pay attention to the campaign, since visitors then feel like they freely chose to participate in it.
If you're familiar with the concept The 4Cs of Trust, you know that Choice is one of the pillars alongside control, commitment and compensation.
Allowing customers to direct what they are comfortable in sharing is not only about playing it safe, it's a requirement if you want them to trust you.
Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've heard about the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), that came into action on May 24th. This regulation comes to prove, that the law payed attention to the evolution of marketing practices, and is therefore impacting businesses in regards to customer data protection.
For instance, the conditions for consent have been strenghtened, meaning consent must be "...clear, distinguishable and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language...".
Comfortable customers and data collection through surveys
Using surveys is 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 he doesn'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.
A customer responding in their own words to marketing related questions, will help marketers to avoid drawing false conclusions simply based on numbers.
For example, if you use website 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 website 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 avoid privacy issues.
Whether with surveys or with other means 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 a specific type of customer, you can often yield impressive results by asking compelling and relevant questions that spark a customer's interest.
The "tracking" method may be preferable to businesses strictly relying on "click", without any interest in using a personal approach.
Whenever you fall on the big data/privacy debate, it's important to always respect your customers and give them the opportunity to speak up for themselves.
Maintaining confidentiality about the data you collect and being vigilant to avoid mistakes is essential to establish a good customer relationship.
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. But what goes arround comes back arround, so keep your data clean.