With the dust still stirring from the exposure of the NSA's data collection program, privacy advocates are starting to turn their attention to the businesses that collect consumer data. Pundits are starting to ask, "Who's more dangerous: The government or businesses?"
Opinions run the gambit between "they're both dangerous" to "they're both good." So, which is it? It depends on who you ask. The general consensus seems to be that government snooping in consumer data is a bad thing. However, it's not so clear that businesses collecting consumer data and using it for marketing is dangerous.
Pundits who speak disparagingly against businesses' collection and use of consumer data argue that targeted display ads do not justify the collection of such data -- that it's not worth it. However, that is not the only tactic marketers use Big Data for.
Big Data fuels context marketing. This is an attempt to use consumer attributes and online behaviors to get as close to one-to-one marketing as possible -- personalized marketing. It seeks to deliver the proper content to the best person at the right time. When executed properly, it's marketing that pleases consumers because it adds value to their lives. Both Amazon and Netflix have mastered this.
Big Data Used for Good
Netflix collects data on its users in order to recommend other movies, shows or documentaries to watch. This use of Big Data by a business is delightful. If its recommendation engine was turned off tomorrow they'd disappoint millions of customers and its viewership would undoubtedly suffer.
Amazon's technology offers highly targeted and accurate product recommendations in real time on its website. This is accomplished using the Big Data collected from all of its users. It feels personal and one-to-one, and it certainly helps its bottom line while simultaneously reducing the amount of time consumers need to spend searching for products.
Consumers and Businesses are the Benefactors
In Be A Big Data Marketing Hero, Teradata Applications' CMO Lisa Arthur explains, "Your customers are not only your target, your means for success, and your future; they're the source and ultimate benefactor of your insights."
HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan once said, "Content marketing helped Barack Obama win the presidency the first time around, but context marketing helped him win the second time." Obama's first campaign collected Big Data from the electorate. In his second, it leveraged that data to be more one-to-one with the electorate -- delivering the correct content to the right people at the proper time.
Setting the Internet Back 20 Years
If Big Data ceased to be collected and used by businesses tomorrow, consumers' Web experience would more closely resemble a 1990s online experience. The Internet was a pretty static place back then and didn't really offer a personalized experience. Those were the days of no context: banner ads were everywhere and they likely were irrelevant to most consumers.
Privacy advocates will continue voicing their concerns. However, it's likely they don't really understand the true repercussions of eliminating Big Data collection for commercial use. It's taken over 20 years for Internet technology to evolve into the personalization engine it is today. Consumers want prudent and timely marketing, not spammy irrelevant advertising.
Image credit: ElectronicFrontierFoundation
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