We are living at time when consumers enjoy greater benefits from data-driven marketing than ever before…and simultaneously marketers are facing the possible end to that data-driven way of life that we’ve all created and now take for granted. Why? Because the legislators and regulators that hold the power to steer our industry’s future fundamentally distrust what we do.

What we find amazing, they find alarming. What we know consumers want, they think threatens consumer privacy. I know it sounds alarmist, but take a look at how some prominent policymakers think of what we do.  Let me give you a few examples.

Let’s start with the merging of online and offline data for CRM retargeting.  To a marketer, this is simply the ability to recognize your own customers, and target segments of your CRM database with online ads across the web. But Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), co-author of several bills on privacy protection, has said that he thinks this means, “by combining data from numerous offline and online sources, data brokers have developed hidden dossiers on almost every U.S. consumer…raising serious privacy concerns.”

How about abandoned shopping cart trigger emails?  To a marketer this is just a highly successful nurturing technique with conversion rates substantially higher than for standard sale campaigns. But for The New York Times, this has been equated to , “Trying on a sweater in a department store dressing room and choosing not to buy it, but having a persistent sales clerk pursue you into the street yelling, “Hey, are you sure?”…and receiving a call at your home the next day to check again if you want to complete the purchase.

Talk about a massive disconnect between marketers and policy makers.  What we think is cool and necessary to create wonderful customer experiences, policy makers often think is “creepy.”   And the chasm between how marketers and policymakers see the world is widened even further by the ways that integrated, data-driven marketing is characterized in the press and by consumer advocates.

Frankly if some of the bills that are currently proposed were to pass, we would take a giant leap back in time to a world of nothing but “spray and pray” advertising.   Now, I recognize that this seems outlandish. The sheer scope of what’s at stake here – what this would do to the practice of marketing – often leaves people in sheer disbelief.   But I’m here to assure you that if we don’t work together to change the thinking in Washington, and to educate policy makers on the value of what we do, a single piece of legislation or new regulation could make integrated, data-driven marketing a thing of the past, rather than our hope for the future.

What can marketers do?  We can demonstrate clearly – by our practices, commitments and processes – to be responsible stewards of consumer data in our organizations.    It’s not enough to just “say” that we protect the data or that we care about privacy. We need to be purposeful.

I recognize this is hard.  In fact,  a recent study by DMA and Adobe/Neolane, found that 60% of marketers surveyed were unsure if they have the right strategy for handling the challenges of Big Data.  Another 50% are investing in new technology to handle the influx of Big Data.  Yet, 81% feel unprepared when it comes to marketing data governance.

DMA has led self-regulation in the marketing industry for more than 60 years, and we know that companies want to “do the right thing” with the increasing amounts of consumer information they hold. But that challenge grows as quickly as the scope of big data does.

Marketing without responsibility is bad for business, bad for consumers and bad for our industry.  Our entire data-driven marketing ecosystem is dependent on the fact that consumer data flows freely, intelligently, and responsibly across every marketing channel. In fact, we are a $156 billion industry, according to new research from our Data-Driven Marketing Institute.   One bad apple in the mix could be enough to convince policy makers that none of us can be trusted.

I urge everyone to make data stewardship a key part of how you measure success, and build trust with customers.  The future of our data-driven lifestyle depends on it.


## ## ##

This post is excerpted from a keynote presentation on December 11, 2013  by Linda A. Woolley at NCDM13: Where Marketing Meets Big Data.

Share Now: Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Facebook