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The Value and Risks of Information Sharing

AcxiomJuly 17, 2014

The marketing industry was built on the premise that some amount of information should be shared to better identify an audience who might be interested a company’s products.  That’s the story of how LL Bean, a trusted brand over 100 years later got its start. In 1911 after getting his feet wet on a hunting trip, an avid outdoorsman named L. L. Bean hired a cobbler to stitch leather uppers on workmen’s rubber boots.  A year later he obtained a mailing list of nonresident Maine hunting license holders and sent them a flyer promoting his new shoe (now trademarked the Maine Hunting Shoe®).  After some refining of the design for the shoe, the store began the journey towards becoming the trusted source for reliable outdoor equipment and expert advice that it is today. The full story can be read on LL Bean’s website.

More recently, in October 2013 the Data Driven Marketing Institute published a study, The Value of Data:  Consequences for Insight, Innovation, and Efficiency in the U.S. Economy.  The study shows the impact of a ‘data driven marketing economy’ (DDME) in the strategies companies use to acquire and retain customers.  The DDME added a minimum of $156 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy and fueled more than 675,000 jobs in 2012 with 70% of this value depending on the ability of firms to share data.

Finally in May of 2014, the report from the FTC on data brokers, A Call for Transparency and Accountability, says, “In the nearly two decades since the Commission first began to examine data brokers, little progress has been made to improve transparency and choice. While data brokers provide important benefits to consumers, and some data brokers have taken steps to improve their privacy practices, overall transparency in this industry continues to be lacking.  And with the emergence of new sources of information, improvements in analytics methods, and the availability of more granular information about individual consumers, the need for consumer protection in this are has never been greater.”

So do you think consumers are, 1) aware that a lot of information about them is being shared, and, 2) for those that do know this, how concerned do you think they are about sharing personal and/or anonymous data for marketing purposes?

To answer this question, in part, I would like to share the experience Acxiom has had with our consumer facing website www.AboutTheData.com, which was launched last September.  The site provides educational material about how data is used to market, how analytics create new insights, and gives consumers the ability to log in through a verification process and then view, change or delete the personal data Acxiom has related to them that we share with our clients for marketing purposes.   It also lets them opt-out completely if they don’t want any data sold through our marketing products.

With over half a million visitors to the site so far, about 40% have actually logged-in and looked at their data.   Those who log- in are equally represented by age (20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and <60) and are a pretty consistent percentage of the population be geography.  Only about 10% make changes or delete individual data elements.  Only 2% opt-out entirely.  The most commonly changed or deleted fields are political party, estimated household income and education, followed by marital status and occupation.  Of the changed fields about 2/3 of the users correct the data, and about 1/3 delete it.

We are learning a lot, not the least of which how to talk to consumers about marketing data in language they understand.

Our experience thus far tells us the vast majority of consumers aren’t interested in looking at their data. It would seem most aren’t concerned about its use or more would opt-out – they must enjoy personalization and targeted offers.  Most of the data must be right or they would correct or delete more fields, or they aren’t worried that incorrect data shared and used for marketing purposes creates problems.

What is also clear is that consumers don’t make the leap from looking at raw data about them to understanding what this means to a marketer or what impact it has on what offers they get or don’t get.

While not articulating it quite this way, I believe the FTC is encouraging the marketing ecosystem to de-mystify our data driven marketing economy.  We should all be looking for creative ways to advance this objective.