Use your data to make 2018 the year of good business

It's the time of year when we commit to doing better things. Columnist Malcolm Cox believes 2018 should be the year of consumer trust and data responsibility.

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Resolutions Newyear Featured2018. A new year. And with each new year, we’re all routinely asked for our predictions, resolutions and hopes for the coming months. My hope is that in 2018 we in the marketing industry do a better job of explaining to customers the benefits derived from being trusted with their data — as it really does bring terrific benefits.

Identifying what customers need and delivering it profitably is the essence of marketing. We know that delivering products and services easily, conveniently, at the right time and at the right price should deliver corporate profits. But doing it responsibly is a must today, too.

Corporate responsibility isn’t just about caring for the environment and our charity strategy (important as they are); it’s about how we behave responsibly with the trust consumers have given us with their data.

Data controversies loomed large in 2017. Consumers were concerned about hacking, privacy and lack of accountability from the brands and firms they trust.

We need to restore that trust. Change in laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have a global effect and make some responsibilities compulsory. But why should we wait to be told what to do? Let’s lead by example.

We need to restore trust in our practices and actively promote the benefits that sharing data can bring to consumers. 2018 can be the year to deliver real benefits to consumers in so many sectors.

1. Finance

Financial institutions can offer real benefits by handing back access of data to their customers. Too many product areas, such as mortgages and other loan products, require endless paperwork to be completed.

Of course, checks need to take place. But companies can provide a more seamless approach, such as Zillow with its mortgage marketplace offering product comparisons. Data access can cut unnecessary paperwork, speeding up the application process and offering real choice.

Businesses such as Mint have paved the way in offering easier web-based personal money management. And companies like Personal Capital operate a hybrid model between digital finance data management and a personal touch from professional advisers. Presumably, the model allows advisors to spend less time on paperwork and more quality time with their customers.

2. Health

The prospect of sharing medical information sounds quite scary. After all, it can be the most private of all our information. Yet some medical breakthroughs are only possible when patients feel confident enough to share their records.

Algorithms today can analyze billions of documents to find patterns that will lead to medical breakthroughs in a fraction of the time it took before. Akiri, a new company formed out of an incubator backed by the American Medical Association, claims to be building a network-as-a-service platform that uses information technology, including blockchain, to securely share information.

This process is key to fostering trust between patients and physicians. However, the end value is enormous: the potential to speed up the diagnosis or prognosis of many ailments and diseases.

3. Transportation

If we all shared our driving data with each other, journey times could be better optimized. Yet I’m not sure which apps I can use when. Do you know in which states you can legally use mobile apps while driving? Some state laws target hand-held devices only, while others affect both hand-held and hands-free devices, and other states ignore the issue altogether.

Google’s Waze courts controversy by alerting users to speed traps as well as broken-down vehicles on the road ahead. And Uber has found its business challenged in Oregon due to concerns that it uses technology to evade regulators. In the UK, concerns have been raised over the way the company treats drivers. And here in New York, several Uber drivers have requested that I use an alternative app, as they believe that they are treated better financially by the competitor.

We need to show how using driving data responsibly benefits motorists, passengers and the authorities, ultimately making more journeys quicker and safer.

4. Food

Data analysis can be used to determine the optimal growing conditions for plants: soil quality and temperature, managed irrigation balanced with nutrient provision and light intensity analyzed for optimal plant development. MIT has taken this learning and developed the OpenAg Food Server, a shipping container-sized, controlled environment agriculture technology capable of growing fresh vegetables indoors at scale.

Meanwhile, Evogro in the UK supplies Michelin Star restaurants with indoor units that grow perfect micro-herbs to improve the appearance and taste of the most sophisticated dish. Optimal growing conditions are only achieved through analysis of data and the application of machine learning.

Yet the media narrative around food technology still gets distracted by the genetically modified food agenda. Let’s focus on showing how data makes better-tasting food all year round.

5. Advertising

Consumers get concerned when brands turn up in the wrong place — and alarmed when they read headlines about brands funding terrorism on YouTube. They also get spooked when brands appear to stalk them around the internet.

But consumers are delighted when they’re served information that matches their needs. Music fans want to know when their favorite artists’ tickets go on sale. People with new pets want to know how to get rid of carpet odors. Today’s data technology makes all of these consumer conversations possible.

Most consumers like advertising when it informs them of something relevant or entertains them. Brands have a responsibility to inform, entertain and engage. With the implementation of a smart data strategy, it’s not just possible, it’s probable. Above all, it makes good business sense.

Let’s make 2018 the year of data responsibility. Let’s show our customers that we can be trusted, and let’s demonstrate the real benefits this can bring to their lives. Let’s make 2018 the year of good business.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Malcolm Cox
Malcolm Cox is CMO of Grapeshot, a role he took on after gaining experience in the media, music and agency worlds. Malcolm spent thirteen years working with music and media company Emap, where he created the Magic brand and launched Kiss -- both radio stations -- and reinvigorated weekly music magazine Kerrang! After Emap, Malcolm founded brand activation agency Naked Lunch. Here he created award-winning work for Sony, Nokia, Kickers, IKEA and Nike, staying on at the Naked Group as a director after selling the agency in 2008.

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