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Brands need to walk a fine line on private data

They need to be upfront and transparent on what they are collecting and what for

Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News
Vanella Jackson believes that there is no getting away from using data in some form or the other, as data can create a deeper understanding of the consumer.
Gulf News

Dubai: Want to take a peek at user data? Go ahead … but do make sure not to cross any red lines. For global businesses and brands, the need of the moment is to find those red lines.

With the roasting Facebook and Google have been getting on the way they vacuum in private details, businesses and brands will do well not to get caught in a similar situation. This is where the good — and bad — of data come in.

“Anything people are prepared to give to businesses on their own would be good data,” said Vanella Jackson, Global CEO at Hall & Partners, the London-headquartered brand consultancy and part of Omnicom Group. “And that’s data that can create a deeper understanding of the consumer and help build a further bond between customers and brands.

 The problem happens when there is too much gathering of data and not enough understanding of how to make it work.”

 - Vanella Jackson | Global CEO at Hall & Partners 

“It’s important that people are sufficiently aware of what data they are giving away.

“For brands and businesses, it’s going to be more about knowing what to collect and how to use it. The problem happens when there is too much gathering of data and not enough understanding of how to make it work.

“It’s why it’s much more important to have a clear data strategy — know what you are collecting and what information you are going to act on.”

But there is a crisis of confidence brewing in the ad and digital media industry. Targeted advertising was rightly hailed as the next big thing when it started showing up on users’ computer and smartphone screens. But since then, targeted is starting to feel more like direct encroachment into users’ minds. Facebook’s fiasco over the Cambridge Analytica revelations is only the most spectacular fallout. It needn’t be the only one.

Jackson believes that there is no getting away from using data in some form or the other.

“You shouldn’t try and address all your audiences, only those most interested in what you have to offer,” Jackson added. “Targeting is important.

“Bringing different data sets together, such as attitudinal and behavioural, allows brands to dig further and allows profiling customers in a deeper way. It’s not just to understand what they think of a brand and their shopping behaviour, but more about what they are doing online and what else is going on in their lives. That should allow us to give them products and services that better meet their needs.

“All brands are facing digital-led disruption and seeing changes in customer behaviour. Every brand is asking what they should do different to stay relevant. Brands are asking a lot of questions — but they are not just seeking answers from data. They are asking customers directly.”

One thing businesses should avoid is to try and compensate by portraying themselves as a “caring” company. These days, brands will line up to air their views on climate change, immigration, race issues, and violence. (Even the seemingly untouchable National Rifle Association (NRA) in the US have had brands pull out ad support, brought on by recent mass shooting incidents and protests thereafter.) But when using the caring card, brands had better walk the talk.

“Everybody is dancing on the pinhead of caring — but no one is actually delivering,” said Jackson. “You have to have absolute integrity in all of your conversations.

“The risk of not doing that is so huge, because the social media’s power to call every company to account is so strong.

“Brands and businesses need to act on those beliefs. If it is just puffery and words, why would anyone believe you? You’ll soon get exposed if you do not follow up on your words.

“Connecting with people today means you have to have a cause and contribute to society beyond your own interests in selling a brand. This is particularly compelling to the young.”

The Hall & Partners’ do’s and don’t on brand building

■  “People make up their minds very quickly about brands and they don’t truly absorb all the detail you want them to. But if brands live those values rather than simply talk about them, stronger connections are made.”

■ “The more demanding consumers have become, the more adept they are at spotting and calling out fake integrity. So ideas and beliefs need to permeate right through an organisation, not just its marketing department.”

■ “Perhaps advertising is too constrictive a word in this data-fuelled and more informed digital era. In many ways, advertising should feel more like conversations. Not everybody wants to have an ongoing dialogue about every brand they buy but if you’re not prepared to have a two-way relationship with your audience, you’re failing in your advertising.”