Data Tidal Wave: Opportunity and Responsibility

As marketers, we need to think carefully about how we can maintain a balance of using data to improve the customer experience while also allowing for visibility and control for individuals who want to understand how their personal data is being used.

In the last two weeks, I have had the good fortune of participating in The Corporate Social Media Summit, Social Media Today’s “Social Media Shake-Up”, TED@IBM’s “Reimagine our World”, The Churchill Club’s “Churchill Awards”, and upon arriving in New York City from home in San Francisco, (at least the Twitter stream of) the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s MIXX conference.  I need to pause for a moment and express how full my brain is, and how keyed up I am with the possibility of the future!? Whether engaging as a speaker or an attendee, it is clear to me the marketing (and global, for that matter) transformation that we have been speaking about for many years is truly upon us – AND it is coming like a tidal wave. 

Over the course of these past two weeks, I’ve had a unique opportunity to look both micro and macro at how the digital transformation is impacting us as brands and as individuals.  From how corporate brands are innovating to engage with their increasingly elusive customers, to how individuals are participating in and creating a collaborative economy.

Bryan Kramer key noted at the Social Media Shake Up, and discussed how there is no more business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C), that there is simply human-to-human (#H2H). Bryan took this even deeper in his TED@IBM talk where he discussed how he learned the importance of this concept in his own life.

The Tesla Design Team discussed the importance of Design Thinking, from utility to beauty to brand building and acceptance in the mainstream.

Jeremiah Owang spoke about the rapid disruption and empowerment brought on by the birth of the collaborative economy, key noting at the Social Media Shake Up and interviewing the Head of Data Science, Riley Newman, for AirBnB at The Churchills.  Most inspiring to me about this economic shift is the power individuals reclaimed during the economic downturn to sometimes save their homes or businesses through this supplemental income, and in doing so, creating a new model for trust that is creating truly human experiences in an old-turned new fashion.

Airlight Energy, a Swiss-based supplier of innovative technology, shared their vision for solar production that offers the bi-product of desalinized water.  Gianluca Ambrosetti, Head of Research for Airlight Energy, shared the promise of bringing solar energy to remote parts of the planet using sunflower-shaped panels.

Kare Anderson reinforced the importance of reciprocity, mutuality and truly being present in order to engage with one another as people; really encouraging us all to step out of our comfort-zones and connect with people who are different than us to expand our thinking and reach new levels of innovation.

These are just a few of the truly next generation topics that I have had the wonderful opportunity to explore with some remarkable thought leaders!!  I am overwhelmed (in a good way) with things to ponder for a good long while ;)

What I'd like to delve into with you all, as fellow marketers, is the specific topic data privacy. In all honesty, it has been on my mind quite a bit and growing over the course of the summer and the many events that I've attended recently. Through discussions about platforms, mobile marketing (or as this tweet so eloquently points out: "It's not mobile marketing. It's marketing in a mobile world"), digital engagement, customer-centricity, and the like, paired with the discussions of social analytics, psychographics, and predictive profiling, I had already been thinking about both the amazing and scary future enabled by the data footprints we all leave just by going about our daily lives. Amazing because we can interpret real insight from this data, and scary for just the same reason - data scientists can see where we go, what we do, and when. And it's becoming more and more visible in the press, from retail to sports. Take this recent article about how theSacramento Kings basketball team is leveraging data; it talks about analyzing visual data, like plays via video of the court, as well as statistics. And this one about Facebook's re-launch of Atlas. Suffice it to say: It's here.

Which is what brings me to Marie Wallace's presentation at TED@IBM, "Privacy by Design: Humanizing Analytics." Wallace is an analytics strategist for IBM. I already knew that she has led the research and creation of some incredible projects, including the small Natural Language Processing (NLP) research project that turned into an enterprise technology that underpins dozens of IBM products, including IBM Watson of Jeopardy fame. What I didn't (yet) know was her core belief that as a data scientist there is an inherent obligation to protect the individual. I also didn't realize that she was applying - and advocating for - a serious code of data ethics. She discussed the power and responsibility data scientists have. Wallace's example was one of analyzing internal employee data created through the use of enterprise social networks (IBM's own) and the request to provide insights and reporting. In her example she discussed the insight that can be garnered from aggregate data without invading the privacy of the individual, and she called data scientists to carry the banner of privacy protection for the individual, as she herself does.

As a marketer who is thinking about how we can better optimize cross-channel digital engagement and match up cookies, mobile IDs, social identities, and others, while also realizing the implications to my own personal data security, this was a fresh perspective to know that (at least some of) those designing the data analysis systems are approaching their work with privacy and ethical responsibility in mind. As consumers become more educated through news coverage, it will be interested to understand how the market (may - OK, very well likely) shift. Stories like George Clooney using "burner phones" to prevent hackers or leaks for his wedding plans or wedding photos, to new social networks like Ello, built on the foundation of data privacy, consumers and individuals are starting to demonstrate their desire for control.

We marketers will need to think carefully how we can leverage behavior data to improve the customer experience, while allowing visibility and control for individuals who are going to want to understand how their personally identifiable information could be used.