The rule for brands and big data: See the people through the patterns

Amit Bansal and Bronwyn van der Merwe
By Amit Bansal and Bronwyn van der Merwe | 9 December 2019

This year heralds the 25th anniversary of when the world’s first banner ad appeared online. In the years since, digital advertising has come to characterise the online experience and fundamentally alter the way brands engage with their customers. 

Promising to maximise brand salience and increase returns, online banner ads quickly became a vital part of the advertising toolbox. Some of the most influential innovations since, such as the introduction of Google AdWords and Facebook’s sponsored links, simply built upon the foundation created by banner advertising.

However, as the digital advertising revolution passed, innovation has plateaued. Consumers are no longer attracted by invasive advertising and have developed strong preferences for when and how they want brands to interact with them online.

The prevalence of private browsing and ad-blocking should be cause for concern amongst brands which have yet to understand the vital difference between brand prominence and brand relevance. In addition, according to new research by Accenture, brands are still failing to live up to consumer expectations for more personalised experiences, despite access to more data than ever.

It is time for brands to reshape their online strategies. By responsibly leveraging the wealth of rich data they have accumulated over the past quarter-century, brands must transform their online experience and establish more meaningful connections with consumers.

Willingness from consumers must be met with honesty from brands
Consumer response to data collection has been misunderstood by brands. Many consumers are more than happy to share their data if there is a direct correlation between making privacy concessions and receiving an enhanced brand experience. A lack of transparency around how the data is being used alienates consumers who would otherwise be positively inclined.

Accenture’s research shows 73 per cent of consumers are willing to share information, but only if brands are honest about its use. What’s more, as many as 65 per cent of customers are prepared to share additional data in return for a more personalised experience.

Brands must act responsibly with the data they collect or risk driving consumers away when they feel their personal data has been abused, especially when brands appear to know too much and act on data collected without consumer knowledge.

For example, popular health apps have recently been found to share users’ data with third and even fourth party vendors, who use this information for context-based advertisements. Today, advanced data processing algorithms can glean more information about a user’s health than even they know themselves.

To successfully satisfy consumer expectations, brands must strike a careful balance between personalising individual customer experiences and maintaining mindfulness about transparency. In 2020 and beyond, this notion will become increasingly significant as the digital advertising industry pivots towards ensuring greater respect and responsibility towards consumer data.

Brands need to hold up their end of the bargain
Access to customer data is a privilege, not a right, and brands must provide comparable value for customers in return for their personal information. This exchange can only be built upon the trust that their data will result in a more personalised and streamlined customer experience.

To achieve this level of confidence, brands must take a human-focussed approach to data and consider what consumers expect from brands. Banner adverts which track users across the web no longer provide consumers with the value they deserve.

Online shopping brands like Amazon have made promising steps toward increasing value online. By analysing spending patterns and shopping preferences, Amazon now provides hyper-tailored recommendations only when consumers need them.

Spotify leverages customer listening information to offer personalised track suggestions based upon a combination of collaborative filtering, natural language processing and audio analysis. This saves time and provides great consumer value.

These digital tools present a huge opportunity for brands to take a more mindful and tactical approach to data collection and design a holistic customer experience while doing so. 

Brands must balance data collection with privacy
New methods for data collection emerge daily. With the introduction of new technologies such as voice assistants and smart speakers, the ethical divide between useful data and private information continues to blur. Brands must respect this, set clear boundaries and remain open about how they cultivate consumer data. 

Customers have become well-informed on data collection practices and have established clear preferences as a result. For example, more than three quarters of consumers are uncomfortable with data collected via microphone or voice assistance.
Customers also expect their data to remain safe and rely on brands to maintain robust privacy frameworks. 

To alleviate these concerns, brands must develop a balanced data use strategy to avoid misusing private information. Breaches in consumer privacy are unfortunately becoming a daily occurrence making the responsible treatment of data a critical component of corporate accountability. 

It goes without saying that organisations must take a proactive and responsible approach to data security. 

Seeing the people behind the patterns
Brands now have more ways than ever to effectively compute data, however, they can easily lose sight of the human element needed to develop meaningful customer experiences. 

Without a data strategy which prioritises honesty, transparency and clear privacy quid pro quo, brands risk alienating their consumers. 

Brands have made substantial progress over the past 25 years as online data has come to provide far more value, but significant change is still needed. By adopting a human approach to data that renews a focus on the consumer, brands will be well positioned to retain relevance well into the post-digital age. 

Amit Bansal isApplied Intelligence Lead, Accenture Australia & New Zealand. Bronwyn van der Merwe isGeneral Manager of Fjord Asia Pacific, part of Accenture Interactive

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