Trust in the Age of Big Data
Big data isn’t new, but it has been on our minds for the last several months. So, we thought now was as good a time as any to talk about it.
Big data in the news
In September, the New York Times ran an article that piqued our interest. In short: Acxiom Corporation, one of the world’s largest marketing technology companies, had launched AboutTheData.com – a website that lets consumers see what information (or ‘Big Data’) the company is collecting and analyzing about them.
The pitch was simple: If you want to get the best advertising delivered to you, based on your actual interests, start here. Tell us who you are so we can show you the information used to fuel many of the marketing offers you receive from advertisers using Acxiom’s digital marketing data.
What information is out there?
More and more, companies are beginning to invest in Big Data solutions as a means of achieving a more effective reach, but investing in this kind of data is not without its challenges. For example, here’s what some Sandstormers had to say when they registered with AboutTheData for a look behind the data mining curtain:
“Characteristic data was spot-on except for the child I didn’t know I have. Household vehicle data: only insurance renewal, nothing about past vehicles I’ve owned (10!). Household economic data: accurate, but light.”
“The only thing accurate about my home was the year it was built. There was absolutely no data found on our cars. For household interests, they had gourmet cooking which is really quite funny since we order most from Pizza Hut… None of the data they had on me felt invasive, probably because the most personal pieces of data were simply not us.”
“The results were disturbingly specific and correct in many cases. In other cases they were completely wrong. They knew everything about my condo purchase, which isn’t hard info to get. They know when my condo and car insurance policies are up for renewal. They knew my age (down to a two year window). Were close enough on my profession. They were pretty far off on my household income and purchasing habits.”
A constant work-in-progress
As our Sandstormers and media outlets have reported, Acxiom still has a few kinks to work out, and chief among them may be accuracy.
“One point I want to make is that this is the first release of the website,” says Nicholas Meshes, an engineering lead at Acxiom who oversees a team of developers who work on the AboutTheData.com project. “There will be subsequent releases that mean more information, improved usability, and more resources and control around how data is being used.”
It’s for more personalized relationships
He adds: “The fact is, corporations want to have more personalized relationships with consumers, and what we’re trying to do is create trust among consumers by letting them see and specify what information is being shared. People who use the website have places to go to give direct feedback, and can opt in or out of most elements we have on file about them. There are also features in the AboutTheData that direct you back to the Acxiom website to show you how we are using your data. Whatever you specify becomes our highest priority.” Whether you opt in or out, you are likely going to be marketed to regardless, “so it may as well be relevant to you.”
One of many tools
Okay. It’s a good idea driven by well-meaning intent, but the Acxiom project and the skepticism with which it has been met underscores one of the biggest challenges faced by marketing companies whose success continues to be influenced by big data: You can’t have trust without accuracy. Even if the data is accurate, it’s just one tool in your marketing toolbox.
Addressing the challenges
Big data is not the marketing panacea, but it can be a fantastic tool to create better experiences for your customers. Using big data effectively requires thoughtful decisions about how you want to engage your target market and providing them with the appropriate control mechanisms to build trust. This is a process and a large component of utilizing big data effectively to address marketing challenges.