Big Data Brings Big Responsibility for Brands Seeking Enduring Consumer Relationships


The data at our disposal enables us to transform increasingly pervasive tools into highly persuasive consumer experiences. The more these data-driven experiences serve the individual, the better they will serve the brand.

By 2025, there’ll be 180 trillion gigabytes of data, and data monetization will become a major source of revenue. That monetization will also separate brands that focus on maximizing short-term profits from those that actively seek more profitable long-term consumer relationships. Because, as brands shift from being overwhelmed by data to leveraging it with precision, they’ll be able to translate digital footprints into experiences that change consumer behavior in ways that previous generations of marketers could only dream of. Data will forever alter the dynamic between people and brands.

Real people live on the other end of algorithms. Often, they struggle to understand the value of sharing their data with brands. As concerns about data privacy rise and an increasing number of interactions with products, services, and content create a barrage of shared data, consumers have difficulty understanding how brands leverage their information.

Brands looking to profit from data have one of two choices, then: They can actively demonstrate how data works for the consumers they serve, or they can strip-mine consumer data and damage their brands’ reputations in that wake. Brands wanting to do the former — standing with the people who support them and putting data to work for their consumers — should implement the following strategies:

  1. Manipulate Data, Not People

Brands would be wise not to use people’s data against them, such as turning their fallibilities into business opportunities. When engagement and sales depend on compulsions or addictive behaviors, these actions can take a toll on other things consumers value more than the brand. And when data is used to tether behavior to a brand without empathy for people, consumers come to begrudge the relationship over time.

That’s why marketers must resist the urge to chase eyeballs, likes, and clicks without regard for the potential behavioral blowback. Eventually, users will break the very habits brands are dependent on — they’ll change the app’s settings, delete the app, or opt out of brand interaction completely.

Uber is an example of a brand experiencing blowback — not just in the national headlines, but also at the street level — from drivers lamenting the gamification of their behaviors. By combining driver data with badges, noncash rewards, and subtle adjustments to the user interface, the company nudges drivers to work harder, which sometimes finds them working longer hours in less lucrative locations to better serve rider demand. Unsurprisingly, this practice tarnishes Uber’s already battered brand image and runs contrary to what the brand promises drivers: “Your day belongs to you.”

  1. Deliver a Behavioral Return on Investment

Brands must understand their roles holistically. Data provides a window into what inspires consumers, motivates them to act, and builds their behaviors over time. The more sophisticated a brand’s understanding, the more that brand can predict actions and unlock consumer potential.

Unlocking the human potential of data works both ways. Brands should use data to help people achieve their goals and do what they want to do in simpler, more enjoyable ways. Checking in often with people on their preferences and needs ensures the data exchange remains in tune with consumers’ lives while allowing brands to monitor any signs of discontent, simultaneously driving commercial success and enabling people to live the brand’s promise.

For example, by attaching value to nontransactional data, Walgreens Balance Rewards for healthy choices program enables people to track their health behaviors while earning in-store rewards. This integration of incentives into its easy-to-use program not only enhances brand engagement and allows people to live the brand promise — “Helping you feel good” — but it also positively affects user behavior. Launched in 2012, the company reported that users had already set 1.5 million health goals and logged 73 million miles by 2015.

  1. Be Obsessed With Data Transparency

To establish a foundation for sustainable growth, brands should begin building consumer relationships based on a mutual value exchange before regulations force them to. Most people today are largely data-illiterate. Brands that act proactively can forestall problems by creating the right data-capturing experiences and establishing an ongoing data dialogue.

Be transparent about how personal data will be used and will lead to reciprocal outcomes for both the business and consumer. The more that people understand the benefits of that data, the more they’ll accept the exchange.

Data privacy regulations in the European Union, high-profile cases like the National Security Agency surveillance program, and rising daily data experiences such as retargeting tactics have primed consumers for an inevitable data double-take. Brands that prepare now and build valued experiences based on a healthy use of consumer data will have a competitive advantage. By manipulating data instead of people, giving them a behavioral return on their data investment, and foregrounding transparency, brands can ensure their numbers stay strong.

Paul Blockey is a strategist and behavioral designer working at the intersection of psychology, data, technology, and creativity. He believes organizations succeed most when they commit to making people’s lives better. Paul currently serves as senior vice president, director of experience strategy and design for RAPP.


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