The CMO’s Responsibility for Big Data

by ilima on August 7, 2013

Marketing professionals are abuzz about the potential power of Big Data, since Big Data offers the promise of using large stores of structured and unstructured data to drive better customer results that can increase company revenue and profits.

However, the firestorm earlier this summer around the US Government’s PRISM program has caused some consumers to equate Big Data with Big Brother. Commercial use of Big Data may sustain collateral damage if consumers demand more protection of personal information, reducing the amount of actionable Big Data available to the CMO and marketing team.

To avoid this potential backlash, CMOs should drive for more transparency around how the company will use its customers’ unique, personal, and perhaps most notably, personally-identifiable information.
At minimum, the CMO must work closely with IT to securely store and protect the volumes of customer information they can now collect, because now, as HP’s June Manley notes, “Information comes at a previously unimaginable speed, scale and complexity – from sensors that collect data to employees and customers that publish blogs to social media postings to video and audio.” Without a good plan, the marketing team can be simply overwhelmed by the amount of Big Data it collects, with the risk that it either goes unleveraged, or at the other extreme, that the customer information is not treated responsibly.

Additionally, companies need to review and update their policies around the collection, use and storage of personal and personally identifiable information. Companies should clearly communicate to customers – in plain English and with clear examples – how their data could be used, the benefits they could expect from its use, and any options customers have for which of their data can be used by the company. Companies may find it advantageous to provide incentives for customers to share their personal data. And CMOs should set policies for regularly purging old customer data so that a misguided purchase or action years ago does not haunt a person forever.

Let’s not forget, of course, that most consumers have been up until now either blissfully unconcerned or obsessively paranoid about keeping their personal data private. Lured by the promise of free storage, many of us have happily posted our personal documents, photos and videos across the Web. As USA Today noted, American consumers have “sacrificed privacy for the convenience of social media and the cloud.” So as consumers, we need to be more aware of the digital footprint we create. Simple activities such as using privacy controls on Facebook, YouTube, Picasa, and other social media sites, plus of course regularly dumping browser cookies, can reduce your digital footprint. Or can it? When was the last time you saw a friend online imploring you to change YOUR settings so that THEIR information would not travel further than they intended?

Statistics guru Nate Silver commented in a Guardian interview that ”using data is not a substitute for needing to have goals and ethics … values and strategies. “ More data does not mean better decisions if you don’t have a system for how you evaluate it. As CMOs, we owe it to our customers and to our shareholders to have a clear system, an ethical strategy, and a strong communications plan around Big Data.

Hilary Glann