To Manage Big Data, Think Like the Customer

by Jeff Wiener on July 31, 2015

As you no doubt know, your technological devices collect massive amounts of data about you that in turn is collected and compiled by an indefinite number of companies to create a fairly comprehensive profile of, well, you. So called “Big Data,” that is, the widespread collection of massive amounts of information about people, has given companies unprecedented pictures not just what customers think about, but, in fact, how they think, offering insights into consumer habits that companies have been overly quick to monetize.

The result, to adapt a classic line from The Simpsons, is that companies who collect big data are a little like a mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how they got it, and danged if they know how to use it! This unawareness of the privacy and security implications of collecting such massive amounts of data has led to some of our most devastating breaches of recent memory, thankfully prompting businesses to rethink their collection practices and how best to employ the data they do collect.

In fact, it’s time businesses gained a new appreciation for the power of big data collection, rethinking how that data is collected, stored, and deployed. For saying nothing about the threat of that data getting stolen, the fact that businesses know so much about customers is disconcerting at times to those very customers…and it’s pretty pointless to have comprehensive consumer profile on customers who have already left your business behind.

As a consumer I’ll say that I often feel a sense of corporate creepiness when I realize that my online habits, my purchases, my interests, my web searches, and everything else is being recorded and compiled into a consumer profile by, well, I’m not really sure by whom. The only good thing, though, is that businesses that increasingly rely on big data and analytics for their marketing are learning how to better use that data as well.

In fact, I would say almost without qualification that every misstep related to the collection, analysis, and/or deployment of consumer data has been a result of the failure of the business itself to think like a customer. Sure it might seem like a good idea to track a person’s website visits, and then hit them with what seems like a relevant advertisement moments after they leave, but guess what, that comes across as really really creepy, and it’s more than enough to turn off potential customers from your business altogether.

I would also wager a guess that the issues people may have with data collection really don’t revolve around privacy like we often think—remember that data collection and deployment is what puts the ‘smart’ in our smart devices—but over the perception of how that data is being used.

As CRM Buyer writer Christopher Bucholtz writes, “It’s one thing to offer a business information about yourself and then see it used in the selling process. It’s another thing to have the business use information you have not volunteered — and can’t even guess how it was obtained. That can be somewhat unsettling.”

But as I said, thankfully businesses are learning how best to use the data they collect, and that means of that feeling that someone is watching your every online move and more targeted and relevant advertising that you can actually benefit from.

In fact, Bucholtz writes that this perception shift regarding big data is opening up new doors for advertising that embraces rather than alienates consumers. “It’s not just big data and a technology-driven revolution — it’s also a shift in attitudes about data’s place in the selling process, its role as a guide or as a reality check, and its ability to fuel new processes that drive greater sales performance.”

So if you’re ever wondering how your business should use consumer data is collects, remember this rule of thumb: Always think like a customer.

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