We haven't heard the last of the Prism data story and we certainly haven't seen the last of public debate around data privacy. It was inevitable that, at some point, a story would explode around just how much governments know about us via online networks, how closely they can track our every move and the trade-off this creates between privacy and security. Not terrific for Obama and the other leaders of the so-called free world, but also not great mood music for marketers. This sort of story does have an impact on the world of brands as well as that of politicians and public servants. All of us who rely on data for a living need to think about the consumer context in which that data is provided. As marketers we are bound to be concerned that all this negativity will lead to greater reluctance amongst consumers to share their data with brands, to allow us to use it to shape products, service and communications more closely to their specific needs.
We shouldn't lose the faith though. The fact is that there is a tension here which is often overlooked. Life is not as simple as consumers believing that their data is an entirely precious, personal resource that should not be shared with the marketing forces of darkness. We need to encourage a much more grown-up debate than that.
I recently took part in a BBC debate on whether brands know too much, and are therefore becoming too powerful. I argued that if they continue to use that (well regulated) power to make our lives easier, then who will complain? Websites which remember my preferences can save me hours of unnecessary hunting around. The fact that Google understands I am searching for Golf the car not golf the game feels to me like a sensible use of my search data and not an invasion of my human rights. Retailers like Tesco using my purchase data to highlight relevant offers and products is good value for my time and money - why give me money off vegetables when what I really want is a wine offer? Well, it works for me. I think most people have all got used to a world in which we accept that brands can make our lives better, cheaper and easier if we are prepared to let them into our personal domain.
It's also instructive to take on board the views of the next generation of consumers. Having been brought up as the Facebook generation they are far more relaxed about their personal life being more of a publicly shared experience that can lead to more fun and enhanced life experiences. Many of them are happy to splatter their personal data all over the most public medium and share their intimacies with people they don't really know; probably more of a concern than sharing with brands they implicitly trust. These are not data misers or data naysayers, but data sharers. If they are the future we don't have to worry that Government will mess up the data world for marketers.
The reality is that we have become too used to sharing, too used to the value we get from exchanging our data with others, to go back to a world in which the closest a brand could get to an individual customer preference was by extrapolating it from a qualitative research finding. Marketing has become personal and we like it that way. And if data can make the world a safer place, I don't see a majority in favour of stepping back from that either.