Marketers Must Be Data Stewards -- Here's How

Stand Up for Responsible Data Practices to Earn Consumer Trust, Grow Revenue

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If data is the fuel of business revenue, then trust is the vehicle that transports us safely to a fruitful customer relationship. Trust is built carefully over time, but can be destroyed in an instant. What would the impact be to your business if there were a media exposé about how your firm's consumer data is misused, breached or used without notice, choice or permission?

Scary as it is to think of, marketers must protect their precious brands with a commitment to data stewardship. It's the new imperative for every marketer: To assure that data is used responsibly to earn consumer trust.

Nearly all of our modern marketing mandates are focused on analytics that transform data into actionable insights, testing new technologies, moving manual work to programmatic approaches, and automation innovations. All of those run on consumer data. In all our exploration of new technologies and data platforms, we must remember that the line between customer delight and annoyance is thin.

Don't 'outsource' data privacy
Many marketing organizations outsource privacy and data management to the legal or privacy teams. This is a mistake. Instead, it should be embraced as a core function of customer-centric marketing. CMOs already recognize the importance of data stewardship, according to the recent "New Rules of the Road" DMA/Winterberry survey.

With overwhelming agreement, 79% of marketers surveyed said their organizations would benefit from more sophisticated, strategic data governance approaches. But most organizations have been reluctant to back up that need with the necessary institutional support, as only 32% of panelists "strongly agree" that data governance is currently a clear priority within their companies;

It's our job to be both the voice of the customer internally and the steward of the trust that consumers place in our brands and products.

Data stewardship helps ensure that:

  • Consumers are given notice and choice about how their data will be collected and used.
  • Consumers trust the brand and company.
  • Policymakers and the media gain a clear picture of responsible data-driven marketing.
  • Data is protected, and marketing data is used for marketing purposes only.
  • Accurate data is being appropriately monetized.
  • Compliance with all appropriate laws and DMA industry self-regulations is maintained.

It's easy to ignore the national privacy and data-use conversation, confident that your own marketing practices are far afield from the "Summer of Snowden" government spying and law-enforcement requests for phone records. Yet, trust in marketers is not a given. So far this year, the White House, the FTC and Congress (not to mention three state legislatures) have all raised questions or proposed regulation about commercial use of data. They often insist that marketers must be spying on their customers or unfairly limiting access to products and discounts. While we at DMA believe that is untrue, to prevent restrictive regulation we must make sure there is not even a hint of it in our practices.

Data is the new gold of our economy, and consumer trust is the currency that makes data-driven marketing effective. We can't allow regulators and policy makers to mess with innovation, our digital lifestyles and a data-driven industry that contributes more than $156 billion to the U.S. annual economy, according to a recent Value of Data study from professors at Harvard Business School and Columbia University. Consumers love their data-driven lifestyles. Look at their digital participation levels as evidence. Marketers must make a commitment to keeping those digital experiences safe.

Action Plan: Keep digital experiences safe
This won't happen without a plan. Consider these four components to an effective data stewardship program:

Appoint a Data Governance Compliance Officer, and make this a real part of someone's job (maybe yours?). This person will lead a cross-department, collaborative effort to build a responsible data stewardship program. The DMA Marketing Data Governance certification can help you get started.

Establish ongoing processes to manage data to a standard of legal and ethical compliance that are flexible enough to adapt to shifts in the marketplace, new laws or industry best practices.
Create written policies for a data governance and quality control program. Incorporate these practices into the business objectives and performance metrics for everyone on the marketing, operations, legal and privacy teams. Make data governance and consumer trust inextricable from your ROI and business goals.

A proactive risk assessment should precede the program development. This helps the team understand current data practices, outline privacy and consumer trust commitments, and rate any potential harm from marketing practices or product features. It's a good idea to repeat this assessment at least annually.

Our world is social, our lifestyles are digital and nearly every aspect of modern marketing is data-driven. Every marketer must stand up and advocate for responsible 1:1 marketing. We are judged by consumers and policy makers at every step of the lifecycle. Bottom line: We all have a high standard to uphold to be stewards of consumer trust.