Marketing Data: Do I Own My Own Name?

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the position taken by some privacy advocates that each of us owns our own information—and thus has some form of property rights derived from this information—and that marketers shouldn’t have use of that information without first having permission and providing compensation

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the position taken by some privacy advocates that each of us owns our own information—and thus has some form of property rights derived from this information—and that marketers shouldn’t have use of that information without first having permission and providing compensation. To this, I say—hey OK, but let’s be pragmatic.

Certainly, if I’m a celebrity, where my name and likeness has commercial value, perhaps as an endorsement, such an “ownership” rationale is a valid one.

But in the exchange of customer data for marketing purposes, this argument lacks merit, in my opinion. The value of my name on a mailing list, for example—mail, email, telephone, otherwise—has nothing to do with “my” name being on the list or, for that matter, “your” name being on that same list. (Even when we are both see ourselves as celebrities.)

Rather, the value of both our names being on the same list is by knowing the shared attribute that placed us both there—alongside the thousands of others on that list. In the world of response lists, it’s the sweat equity of the business where you and I both chose to become a customer that deserves the compensation in any data transaction, as it alone built the list by building a business where you and I both chose to become customers.

Yes, that marketer must provide notice, choice, security, sensitivity, marketing data for marketing use only, and perform other ethical obligations that are part of the self-regulatory process that have governed this business for nearly 50 years—recognizing that customer data is our most important asset, and that consumer trust and acceptance serves as the foundation of the data-driven marketing field. Privacy policies, preference centers, in-house suppressions and DMAchoice collectively serve the consumer empowerment process by enabling transparency and control in this data exchange.

In the world of compiled lists, where third parties assemble observed data for marketing purposes, again there is the sweat equity of the entities assembling and analyzing that data to “create” or “discover” the shared attributes of that data. Knowing these attributes is where the combined data derive their value. Marketers deploy activity based on these attributes to generate commerce. While the relationship between individuals and these third parties may be indirect, we still have the same ethical codes and opt-out tools governing the process. Recently, in the case of Acxiom, we’ve seen such a data compiler working to establish a direct relationship with consumers, providing individuals with the ability to inspect the data the company holds and to suggest corrections—as if the firm were a (highly regulated) credit bureau. (It is not.)

The fact that my name—Chet Dalzell—is on both response and compiled lists, to me, doesn’t entitle me to anything except to expect and demand that these movers of data act as responsible stewards of this information using well established ethics and self-regulatory methods. (Granted, in the US, there are legal requirements that must be met in such sensitive areas as credit, personal finance, health and children’s data.)

This flow of data, as the Direct Marketing Association most recently reaffirmed, generates huge social and economic value—and, in my view, my own participation as a customer in the marketplace is my agreement to allow such data exchange to happen. In fact, were it not for such flows, I might never have been provided an opportunity to become a customer in the first place. Benefits to consumers accumulate, while harm is nowhere part of the marketing ecosystem—other than to protect from identity theft and fraud. I find it fascinating some would-be regulators fail to grasp this truth.

That’s why inflexible government regulations—and opt-in-only regimes—and technology strictures that interfere with my interaction with brands are so troublesome. Such restrictions may claim to be about privacy; more often than not, they’re really motivated by political grand-standing, anti-competitive business models, and the forced building of new data siloes that do nothing to advance consumer protection—and potentially ruin data-driven marketing.

Yes, I own my name—and by choosing to be a customer of your brand, so do you own your customer list. Of course, I am the ultimate regulator in this process. For whim or reason, I can choose to take my business elsewhere.

Now, what about my Twitter, Facebook, Google and Yahoo! profiles?

Author: Chet Dalzell

Marketing Sustainably: A blog posting questions, opportunities, concerns and observations on sustainability in marketing. Chet Dalzell has 25 years of public relations management and expertise in service to leading brands in consumer, donor, patient and business-to-business markets, and in the field of integrated marketing. He serves on the ANA International ECHO Awards Board of Governors, as an adviser to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, and is senior director, communications and industry relations, with the Digital Advertising Alliance. Chet loves UConn Basketball (men's and women's) and Nebraska Football (that's just men, at this point), too! 

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