We often talk about “data-driven marketing” as if were something we invented in the latter decades of the 20th Century. But, marketers have always profited from skillful applications of consumer information in one form or another, even before we started calling it “data.”

Picture the rug merchants, wool dealers or pottery sellers of long ago, who used the “data” they generated from face-to-face interactions to vary their pitches to different customers who browsed their wares in open-air marketplaces, in tents or on peddlers’ carts.

Today, as these contacts between buyer and seller happen more often online, their data trails give modern marketers a greater wealth of information at their fingertips. It is no less a combination of art and science as it was – and still is! – in the rug bazaar.  For that reason, I ask you to consider the second of my three resolutions for 2014:

“Resolve to step up for your customers, using your data to drive ever more customer-centric marketing that puts customers and their needs and wants in the forefront of every marketing program.”

Marketing serves two constituencies today. One, naturally, is your company. Your marketing must help it succeed and grow, whether by increasing sales or cutting costs. If it doesn’t pay off, you’re out.

Your customers make up your other constituency. Today’s successful marketers use data in service to their customers to create great experiences that encourage a personal, one-to-one experience across a multiplicity of interactions.

Browsing and buying are a major part of that experience. So are asking questions, offering comments and reviews, and sharing your stories and theirs with other customers. These all happen within owned and third-party online environments and have become a significant part of the overall brand experience today.

Transparency and a commitment to protect customers and the data they share with you, whether voluntarily or indirectly, are at the heart of a great customer experience as well.

Consider a story that appeared recently on Forbes.com in which the writer, an experienced digital navigator, complained that a bank gave her personal information to a marketing agency before she completed her new-customer application.

The writer, who had moved to the U.S. from overseas, had been trying to open an online bank account but needed to provide a U.S. driver’s license as part of the process. Because she didn’t have one, she broke off the application process.

The routine email reminder asking her to come back and finish her application apparently didn’t bother her. But, she hung up on a caller from a marketing research company that called with more follow-up questions.

She admitted that she hadn’t read the fine print before beginning the application process, which included an advisory that personal information would be shared as the form was being filled out and “will be used for marketing.”

We don’t know if she ever became that bank’s customer. However, a notice that explains what happens during the application process, written in layman’s language instead of marketing-speak, might have defused her concerns.

We know that customers will give up plenty of data if they see the benefit – 53%, to be exact, according to a recent DMA infographic. On the flip side, 58% said they must trust you first before they share any of that data.

That trust comes more easily when you explain at every data collection point what you collect and how you will use it, and when you give your customers options to manage their own data, such as the Ad Choices program, part of the Digital Advertising Alliance (of which DMA is a participant).  Our Ethical Business Guidelines are pretty clear on the need for transparency, notice and choice.

Still to come: my third resolution for data-driven marketers, “Resolve to stand up for yourself and your fellow marketers at a time when data-driven marketing faces intense scrutiny from government, privacy advocates, and sometimes our own customers.”

In the meantime, please let me know in the comments section what you have done to factor in the customer to your marketing programs, or share success stories from companies you admire.

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