Take Command of Marketing Data Governance—Because We Have To

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern. I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it).

The emergence of “big data” as an enterprise concern for many businesses and organizations is, as with most trends, both an opportunity and a concern.

I recently was involved in reviewing new and recent Aberdeen Research on “Big Data”—how it is defined, how it is changing information volume (astounding in quantity), variety (both structured and unstructured, with tremendous pressure to integrate and make sense of it), and velocity (pushing the insight, analytics and business rules that flow from such data to lines of business that can best profit from it). An infographic that captures some of this research is now posted at Mason Zimbler, a Harte-Hanks Company, which created the visual presentation.

Alongside this current fascination and business trend, perhaps it’s not surprising that members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, also are posing questions at the marketing business as to how we collect, buy/sell, rent and exchange data about consumers online and offline, and if there is adequate notice and choice in the process. In the rush to capitalize on Big Data, we need to ensure that we’re collecting and using marketing data for marketing purposes only, and doing so in a manner that is respectful of fair information practices principles and ultimately serves the end-customer, be it consumer or business individual or enterprise. [See Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA: http://markey.house.gov/content/letters-major-data-brokers.]

All too often, privacy adherence is considered a legal matter, or an information technology matter—but I maintain that while these two business areas are important in respecting consumer privacy, it is marketers who have the most to gain (and lose) by smart (or insensitive) information practices. Data is our currency, and we must treat data (our customers as data subjects) as our primary asset to protect. Our method of marketing is in the balance. One or two major privacy mishaps can spoil it for everyone.

Of course, marketing data governance is far more than privacy compliance. Data quality, data integrity, data security, data integration, data validation and data flows within an enterprise all, too, are part of marketing data’s customer intelligence equation. It is in this spirit that the Direct Marketing Association recently introduced its newest certification program for professionals: “The Institute for Marketing Data Governance and Certification,” taught by marketing veteran Peg Kuman, who is vice chair at Relevate Group. The three-day course, which has launched on a two-year, multiple-city tour, is indispensable in understanding how multiple channels, multiple data sources and platforms, customer expectations and business objectives combine to command better understanding, tools and processes for data handling for smart integrated marketing. Forthcoming course dates and registrations are available here: http://www.dmaeducation.org/dm-essentials/marketing_data_governance.php

For three days last month in New York, approximately two dozen professionals from large and small enterprises, both commercial and nonprofit, attended the first seminar. I, too, attended. There were representatives from marketing, public relations, analytics, legal, IT and fundraising, representing brands, agencies and service providers. This group was engaged—providing examples, asking questions and reporting experiences as the curriculum moved along. (For those who don’t know Peg—a former client of mine—she is quite the facilitator.)

Alongside a workbook, I took home some great handouts, too:

  • A sample security policy; a sample information security vulnerability assessment;
  • A security due diligence questionnaire;
  • A sample vendor risk management program vendor questionnaire;
  • The latest copy of the DMA Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice (recently updated with new email append guidelines, by the way) and a bevy of news articles that captures the media’s and public policymakers’ current attention on consumer data in America.

The meat of the course tackled, among other topics:

  • Categorizing data and assigning priority and sensitivity (personally identifiable information, sensitive data and other categories);
  • Mapping data flows and interactions with customers; enhancing data with appended information, and ensuring its use for marketing only;
  • Having a data quality strategy as part of a data strategy;
  • Calculating return on data investment;
  • The emergence of digital, mobile and social data platforms, and how these present both structured and unstructured data collection and insight analysis challenges;
  • Assigning data “ownership”;
  • Calculating and assigning risk regarding security;
  • Monitoring security, investigating potential incidents of a breach, and handling a response to a breach were it to occur (using recent breach response examples of LinkedIn and Epsilon); as well as
  • Laws, ethics and best practices for all of these areas.

One of my concerns is the importation of European-style privacy protection in America, and current fascination with such protections by U.S. regulators and elected officials. That is worth another blog post in itself, but I can assure you that we need to educate politicians about the superiority of self and peer regulation where no consumer harm exists.

Thank you, DMA. Marketing data does not harm. It only creates consumer choice, commerce, jobs and (tax) revenue—and pays for the Internet and other media, too—and it is ridiculous to even entertain government-knows-better regulation of such information through a potential omnibus law in America, or other notions such as a government-mandated “privacy by design” requirement in marketing innovations. (On the other hand, I’m more than happy to see laws pass that protect Americans from potential government abuse of private sector marketing data—Big Brother should not be getting access to marketing data for non-marketing purposes, unless there is a demonstrable greater public good, where subpoenas are served and heard.) Privacy by design is smart business, but only when left to the innovators, not the policymakers.

Which brings me to close—and if you’re still reading this, I congratulate myself for not chasing you away. Big Data (which can incorporate far more than marketing data) goes hand-in-hand with marketing data governance. Whether a Big Data user or not, we all use marketing data everyday as our currency. Protect it. Respect it. Serve it. Govern it. So we can use it.

Digital Marketers Abuzz About WSJ Article Slamming Web Tracking

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably already heard about or read a July 30 Wall Street Journal article called “The Web’s  New Gold Mine: Your Secrets.”

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably already heard about or read a July 30 Wall Street Journal article called “The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets.”

In case you haven’t, the article — which offers findings from a study conducted by the Journal that assesses and analyzes cookies and other surveillance technology that companies are deploying on internet users — paints a very ugly picture of online marketers and web tracking companies.

The study reveals that the “tracking of consumers has grown both far more pervasive and far more intrusive than is realized by all but a handful of people in the vanguard of the industry.” For example, the nation’s 50 top websites, on average, installed 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning. A dozen sites each installed more than a hundred.

The study also found that tracking technology is getting smarter and more intrusive. “Monitoring used to be limited mainly to ‘cookie’ files that record websites people visit,” the article said. “But the Journal found new tools that scan in real time what people are doing on a Web page, then instantly assess location, income, shopping interests and even medical conditions. Some tools surreptitiously re-spawn themselves even after users try to delete them.”

Finally, the report found that “these profiles of individuals, constantly refreshed, are bought and sold on stock-market-like exchanges that have sprung up in the past 18 months.”

For the online ad industry, this article comes at an inopportune time. Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) have drafted privacy legislation, the Senate held a hearing last week on the subject, and the Federal Trade Commission is preparing to release a report this fall.

As expected, the digital marketing industry is riled, with online ad industry execs reassuiring the public that they provide clear notice, allow users to opt out of ad targeting and don’t collect users’ names. One article that was particularly on target about the importance of advertisers coming clean on how they use consumer data was by BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol.

In the article, which appeared in the Aug. 2 edition of Advertising Age, Tawakol says, “every web page that collects or shares data should be clear and visual about the data being collected. This disclosure needs to be simple and visual rather than in legalese that requires a law degree to comprehend. It should be as simple as a recycling label or a nutrition label. In addition to providing disclosure, the industry should also give consumers easy control over when, where, why and how that dataset is used.” He also suggested the following:

  • Every publisher of data should link to a preference manager at the bottom of each page called “about advertising.”
  • Every ad should have a standard icon like the little ‘i’ icon created by the Future of Privacy Foundation. That icon should link to a preference manager which shows you how to control your own data.
  • There are several different versions of preference managers like BlueKai, including Google, Better Advertising and Yahoo. Although one standard is preferable, choice isn’t a bad thing — even if it means different companies provide different ways for consumers to visualize their data.
  • Once this is prevalent, legislators should mandate that the only way publishers and ad companies are allowed to share consumer data across third parties is if they conform to the industry standards on transparency and control that are outlined above.

All great ideas … but there’s more to the story. In next week’s blog, I’ll introduce another argument to the mix: the growing number of sites where users volunteer the information that cookies try to collect.

What do you think of the WSJ article? Post your comments below.