Between data breaches and Congressional hearings, the year has started on a sour note for marketers. What can we do to remedy the situation?
Everyone is talking about it, and it's bringing all of marketing down. Data breaches, Congressional hearings for "data brokers," headlines blasting targeted direct mail salutations gone wrong. Even President Obama got into the act, saying that marketers basically do what government spies do -- but of course spies are held to a higher standard. (Ouch!)
Each of these situations puts data-driven marketing under a harsh spotlight and together they converge into a storm of renewed regulatory and legislative attention that continues to threaten our industry and frighten consumers. I don't accept that marketers must always be seen as the "bad guy" in this conversation. We are on the same side as consumers and want them to have safe and fabulous experiences with our brands and products -- it's certainly in our best interest to do so.
To that end, our collective commitment to data governance and stewardship must be more than a cursory New Year's resolution -- or something we delegate to the legal or IT team. As marketers who embrace technology and automation, who better than us to lead our organizations in a new level of responsible marketing practice that will both help prevent and minimize the impact of any breaches, and also build trust with consumers.
It matters not that we know we act responsibly. All the automation technology in the world can't help us if we don't have good data to power it. The need for data governance is no longer "off to the side" of our industry. It's at the heart and center, because data is the fuel that makes marketing effective, efficient, and relevant. Data is at the heart of business revenue. We must not only act with purpose, we must demonstrate to our various audiences that we are doing so.
Most people are delighted to receive a targeted, relevant ad -- in any channel, on or offline. Generally, we love our digital lifestyle and the benefits thereof. Think about free hotel rooms from your loyalty program or free access to leading journalism. We need to continue to provide transparency about how data is collected and used so that consumer and policymaker fear is abated and the value remains.
Marketing practices are under fresh scrutiny these days. Consider:
The fallout from all of this is that it's getting easier for policymakers and consumer advocates to lump responsible data-driven marketing practices with government spying or illegal uses of data. First, we all need to commit anew to acting responsibly and ethically. Then, it seems the marketing industry is in dire need of a good PR campaign -- one based in the facts of how much value data-driven marketing provides to consumers and the economy every day.
It's a pretty big industry to suffer from bad opinion (or heedless regulations). A recent report from the Data-Driven Marketing Institute found that responsible data-driven marketing data -- including the flow of data between companies -- is a $156 billion industry generating 675,000 jobs in 2012 alone.
What can marketers do to defend our practices -- and protect our ability to responsibly use consumer data in marketing?
I know that this kind of data stewardship work feels like a vitamin and not a pain killer -- it's a nice to have, but you have real marketing work to be done. I urge you to take another look at what is happening today -- the four regulatory activities I mention in this article are just the tail end of a two- to three-year pressure cooker for our industry. Our success is now noticed -- and unfortunately, it gives both consumers and policymakers pause.
It's no longer optional to protect your business, and our industry, from the kinds of heedless regulation being proposed under current scrutiny of marketing practices. Build this into your marketing operations now.
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Stephanie Miller is a partner with brand and marketing technology strategy firm TopRight Partners, which helps customers use the technology they have today to do the marketing they want to do today and tomorrow. She is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable customer experiences. A digital marketing and CRM expert, she helps sophisticated marketers balance the right mix of people, process, and technology to optimize a data-driven content marketing strategy. She speaks and writes regularly and leads several industry-wide initiatives. Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT toprightpartners DOT com or @stephanieSAM.
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12:00pm ET/9:00am PT