Customer data. We all want it. In today's connected world, it's been called the new oil.
Combined with advanced analytics, it offers the promise of marketing nirvana. By perfectly profiling an individual customer, marketing can be truly personalized, improving a customer's experience, and eliminating waste.
But there's a problem. Customer data isn't a natural resource. It's generated by customers. As our connectivity increases, so does our awareness of the data being collected, and the erosion of our privacy.
And technology is increasingly giving customers the ability to manage with whom they share their data, and from whom they want to hear. Indeed, some predict that interruptive marketing will be all but gone by 2020 (A Futurist Looks at the Future of Marketing).
In such circumstances, access to customer data will become increasingly valuable, a source of competitive advantage, and a privilege to be earned.
To prepare for this, brands need to demonstrate that they can be trusted with their customers data. Here's three practical steps I'd suggest brands should take now.
1. Use the customer data you already have to improve their experience.
This may seem obvious, yet I'm still struck by how infrequently the data I've shared is used to improve my experience. My inbox, for example, is still full of mass rather than personalized emails.
Why not let customers feel the benefit of their data? For example, Safeway's JustforU program, highlights which of their promotions and which manufacturer coupons a customer might be interested in, based on their purchase history. A Walgreens app allows customers to refill their prescription by scanning the barcode on the bottle. While of course Amazon and Netflix use what they've learnt to recommend products or content a customer might find interesting.
2. Give your customers more control over their data
But it can go further. Work with customers to figure out ways that you can turn data they could generate into something of value to them. Nike has done this with Nike+, helping customers generate data to help with their own fitness, and in the process deepening their connection with the brand.
3. Be responsible.
With this in mind, I've always found it best to be upfront with customers: about what data you need to collect, the reason why you need it, and what benefit they will get in return. And rather than collecting everything you can think of, to only collect the data that's really essential to deliver that benefit.
I experienced this with Tesco Clubcard. After seeing an increase in the number of abandoned registrations, we found increasing concern with the amount of personal data we were asking for. So we redesigned our registration process, and only insisted on data that was essential to operate the program, while clearly explaining why we needed it. Any further data was optional.
As a result, we saw an increase in the number of new members, and also reassured existing members that Tesco could be trusted with their data.
However, underlying these three steps is a fundamental question of mindset. If customers are viewed as passive, to be targeted, and persuaded to buy, then you're simply not going to earn the privilege of access - your behaviors will give you away.
In a world where customers hold more and more of the cards, a different mindset is required to earn their trust: one of collaboration, of working with customers, to find ways of creating value in their lives.
If ever there's a need to live the old adage "stop selling - start helping", it's now...