In the Age of Big Data, all of humanity can be quantified. Taken in total, all 7.6 billion of us can seem relatively insignificant depending on the context—in fact, every human being on earth would hardly fill the Grand Canyon.
But ultimately, we're not data. We are individual human beings, and as individuals, we shape how our personal information is used, consumed, shared and valued.
We are what we crave, what we yearn for. Our wanderlust, our joys, our emancipation. But also crushing anguish and suffering. All of it is who we are as humans.
Marketing experts can now capture, measure, store and sell such personal information. Who leads and who follows will determine where the data industry moves next. Across commercial and political industries, advertisers have drawn the line. "It is time for marketers and tech companies to solve the problem of annoying ads and make the ad experience better for consumers," Mark Pritchard, Procter & Gamble's CMO, told DMEXCO last year. Many others did too. Consumers are beginning to act and are demanding more from marketers and challenging legislators, but most brands are still evaluating their next move. Who has the obligation to act and participate in a transparent relationship? In a frictionless world, it must be both industry and consumers, equally.
People want what they want, when they want it, from whom they decide to get it, in the form and shape they choose. There really is no true privacy: The value exchange began long ago. Judging is the new frontier, and consumers determine 90 percent of the value.
Genuine transparency, including the sources and their costs, is the first step in building trust. The IAB, the ANA, marketing and ad technologies, publishers, ISPs and marketplaces all have a chance to develop this transparency with the same rigor and capital they've built their reputations on. The scrutiny, however, is deeper and the conclusions that have been made are not fleeting: They're now embedded in consumer consciousness.
Jennifer Lyn Morone, an American artist, tested transparency through "extreme capitalism": She set herself up as a Delaware corporation, offering buyers dossiers of her own personal data to exploit for financial gain. "The entire collection, including her health data and social security number, can be had for over $9,000," The Economist reported.
Transparency has entered our daily lives in so many different ways we barely notice it anymore:
Netflix can serve up our favorite binge-worthy shows, and we're still amazed that they know what we want and just how much to serve us.
We can find out where our tuna came from and who caught it through a revolutionary initiative that leverages blockchain technology in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.
Consumers are leveraging the virtual data democracy that exists today and are defining the value of products through their experiences: For example, a pair of Serena Williams' size 8 Off-White Nike Air Max 97 "Queens" ($190, retail) went up in price to over $1,000 after her controversial U.S. Open finals match.
Google's AI-driven Duplex technology can now make outbound calls to the hair salon—25 percent of all customer service calls will be made by bots in 2020.
And these aren't even the areas where our comfort goes sideways. Transparency has not entered the Black Mirror phase—yet (though there are many of those situations to draw from over the past six months, Cambridge Analytica included). But the point isn't that it's happening. We're evolving at a Moore's law pace. It's that customers, and people in general, must be part of the process.
What happens to our dreams, experiences and aspirations if we are de-selected from a category, simply because we don't appear to fit it? We seek inspiration in others—in other brands, in other people. How are we called to action to solve a crisis if there are fewer places to explore because our destinations have been predetermined for us? Aggregation and consolidation create a dilution that rubs off the very edges that people want to explore.
With the sophistication available, the industry and advertisers can take simple steps to sustain and build new trust. Trade groups like the IAB and DMA have clear policies and suggestions. But beyond moves to head off regulation, marketers should consider their customers' desires first, and not only to extract data. What do customers care about? Who are they, and how do they live?
What culture customers come from and where they live says more about someone than a persona. Marketers need to care, because their brands are at stake.
Information is power(ful), it's true. It's only valuable, though, if it's given and shared.
That's especially true for Data.