Mark Cameron Columnist

Mark is CEO and head strategist at Working Three, a strategic digital consultancy that specialises in commercialising social media activity. He works with some of Australia's, and the world's, largest and most innovative companies to create a clear picture of the new market forces, and business model disruption, being driven by social media.

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Why big data is becoming a big problem

Published 17 July 2013 10:12, Updated 18 July 2013 06:48

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Why big data is becoming a big problem

Too much personalisation can leave customers with the creepy feeling that they are being spied upon. Photo: iStock

In the course of my job as the chief executive of a digital strategy consultancy, I meet many leaders working in large businesses. Recently, one trend has stood out to me. When it comes to understanding customers, big data is becoming a big problem.

Many businesses have more data than they know what to do with. They have customer data, social media data, transactional records and many other forms of data – all being generated at mind-bending speeds.

The problem is that nobody is really sure what to do with all of this information. Added to this is the fact that almost every consumer-facing market category is currently being disrupted by their own customers. Gone are the days where real customer satisfaction was something of an afterthought.

Customer centricity is the catch cry of 2013. CEOs are aware that their customers now have more power than ever thanks to the proliferation of mobile and social media technologies. They realise that they must put the customer at the centre of the business, and use this shift to transform the way their organisation is run, or risk being disrupted from the outside.

So shouldn’t all this data about customers give businesses the insights needed to become customer-centric? The answer to this question is not as obvious as it first seems. A business can collect huge volumes of data, and use advanced analytics and modelling techniques to create customer profiles that allow for highly specific messages to be sent to customers.

This may create more relevance but for the user it can quickly seem like someone is spying on them.

This is surveillance marketing . Before this was banner advertising and other desperate bids for consumer attention. Surveillance marketing revolves around personal data and customised messages to make the user feel special, but frequently it misses the mark and seems creepy. Most of us have experienced this. The Facebook ads that change when your relationship status changes; the email that seems to know just a little bit too much about who you are. We start to ask, “what else do they know about me and where did they get their information?”

This brings us back to the trend that I mentioned earlier. Business leaders know creepy when they see it. They know that if they use all the data they have about customers to hit next quarter’s sales targets, they may actually harm their brand.

The market is shifting again. Both businesses and consumers are looking for communication that focuses on mutual value. They want to move past surveillance marketing to relationship-based marketing.

What shape real relationship-based marketing may take is yet to be determined. What is for sure is that data ownership is going to be redefined. How can a business be truly customer-centric if its customers feel spied upon? Data is going to continue to be the focus – but it needs to generate value for consumers and businesses alike.

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