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Data transparency and honesty – with great power comes great responsibility

Paul Thomas

Data transparency is a responsibility for marketers.

Every day, millions of consumers receive marketing messages from major brands trying to sell them their wares. By selling their products and services, companies generate income, jobs, tax revenue and fuel economic growth. By buying these products, consumers get something positive in return. Something they want or need (or feel they want or need).

This is the way of the capitalist world (other economic models are available but history has been less than kind to these).

Experian, and companies like us, play a part in this ecosystem by using data to help brands make their messages as targeted and relevant as possible. Enhancing the experience for the consumer and increasing marketing efficiency for the brand.

As Spiderman once said ‘with great power comes great responsibility[1] and it resonates with me as I feel it is important we take our responsibilities as marketers seriously.

As consumers become increasingly aware of their data rights, we need to provide the opportunity to understand how their personal data is used. In a recent Channel 4 promotional video, Alan Carr openly discussed with potential viewers why Channel 4 collected consumer data, how it is used, and why it would benefit the viewer.

I thought this was an excellent example of a brand being honest, open and transparent about its use of personal data. Click here to watch the video, I recommend it. Channel 4 is not the first and won’t be the last to take such steps. Transparency in this issue is key.

The marketer’s responsibility

As marketers we need to ensure consumers have the opportunity to opt out from comms should they wish. For instance, Experian maintains an active ‘No Marketing Request’ file and along with other suppression files like the Mailing Preference service, this gives consumers the ability to exclude themselves from different types of targeted marketing.

In addition, and to some extent more importantly, we have a duty to ensure consumers are never targeted with products and services that could be harmful, offensive or cause financial detriment. To this end we manage an active list of businesses and industries for whom we will not provide data or services as we look to maintain the best interests of the consumer.

It is also recognised that some types of direct marketing are seen as intrusive. To that end, Experian withdrew from providing data for both telephone and SMS prospecting many years ago.

Keep the benefits to the consumer at the front of your mind

The use of data in marketing is necessary however, as marketing without it can be harmful to consumers. For instance, I am still regularly mailed with offers for high interest loans I will not take and credit cards I will not use.

Some of these come from the banks and providers I am very familiar with and despite the fact they have data on my financial behaviour going back over 30 years. Indeed, those organisations not using data to target their marketing have the potential to be in the greatest danger of being irresponsible and disrespectful.

What about credit card offers to people already in debt? Asking them to apply for cards that they will be declined for? What about pointless spam that annoys people?

Data gives us great power and it is important for those of us working in the direct marketing industry that we are responsible and respectful. However more than anything else we should be proud of the role we play in enriching the lives of consumers and powering growth in the UK economy.

[1] I’m reliably informed that it was in fact Uncle Ben who said this, Spiderman’s uncle, not Spiderman himself.

For more on data transparency and a view on Experian’s position on upcoming regulation download the white paper – A Data Powered Future.

This article is about: #datadriven, Data