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Personal Data’s Perfect Storm

Posted on: Monday 17th of November 2014

Not that long ago it was a trickle. Now it’s becoming a flood. Research after research, white paper after white paper all have the same underlying message. It goes something like this – “Hey! There’s a problem with the way organisations collect and use personal data! The sooner they you deal with it, to rebuild and maintain customer trust, the better!”

Take last week as an example. In one short week, four new pieces of research were published.

In America, the Pew Research Centre found that:

According to Pew, consumers are not convinced all this data collection and analysis is being used to their benefit, with 61% of adults “disagreeing” or “strongly disagreeing” with the statement: “I appreciate that online services are more efficient because of the increased access they have to my personal data.”

Deloitte’s new Data Nation report meanwhile tells us that UK consumers are more aware than ever that data is being collected about them and used by organisations. However, it warns, “the public’s confidence that this data is being handled securely or analysed for their benefit has remained worryingly low”.

The report goes on to argue that this ‘confidence deficit’ is a new opportunity for organisations that “provide greater transparency, more tailored benefits and cede control of their data to their customers.”

Forrester also joined the throng with their latest report concluding that “data security and privacy have become competitive differentiators and, thus, a top business technology agenda item”.

However, if fast.MAP research, reported on by Marketing Week this week is right, many companies are being slow to wake up to this. The fast.MAP research reveals a ‘wide disparity’ between consumer attitudes and what marketers believe consumers think. “Marketers are underestimating consumers’ concerns around data use and exaggerating their readiness to opt-in to receiving marketing communications,” it warns.

So far, so good. The debate is maturing. It’s moving beyond vague debates about ‘privacy’ to the need for increased transparency, consumer consent, control and demonstrable value. And it’s becoming strategic. Competitive and brand advantages are becoming clearer – especially as some brands remain slow to respond.

But there’s still a long way to go. According to Ctrl-Shift’s analysis much  current debate still misses the true significance of what’s happening.

A fundamental shift

Personal Data’s Perfect Storm is unfolding at two different levels simultaneously.

At the first level, as the avalanche of new research now demonstrates, a mounting set of business, consumer and legal pressures are combining to re-write the norms and rules that define what is acceptable and not acceptable when it comes to organisations collecting and using customer data. Brand and corporate reputations are now on the line on this front.

This first level of shift is currently hogging the limelight, but it actually only addresses one half of the story – how organisations collect and use customer data.

The second level is even more fundamental – the accelerating trend towards individuals collecting and using their own data for their own purposes.

This second shift – from data as a tool in the hands of the organisation to data also as a tool in the hands of the consumer, customer and citizen – is much more fundamental and far-reaching, and the combination of these two trends is truly transformational. This isn’t only about reforming the current model to maintain public trust. The model itself is up for grabs – and with it business models, competitive strategies and corporate and brand fortunes.

To flourish in this fast-changing environment, brands need to understand and get to grips with both levels of shift. We’ll explore these different aspects of the Storm in more detail over the coming weeks.