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With Great Data Comes Great Responsibility

By Steven Handmaker, CMO, Assurance

Steven Handmaker, CMO, Assurance

Over the past five years, marketing has entered a new golden age. Client and prospect data has never been more easily available. The ability to track the success of a campaign or the interest of your audience is at an all-time high. Long gone are the days of batch, blast and pray. We have entered a time when our customer’s interests can be identified, and our products and messages tailored to make their lives better and increase sales performance. Amazing. But just like with Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility.  

“If the Fortune 1,000 can’t protect their data, how well do you think it is being protected at all the medium-size companies and small businesses, where IT teams are not as robust?”

Part of that responsibility includes using this data to deliver quality custom content and not just more content. Big data promises more sales opportunities, but most importantly it promises the public a better buying experience. I know I personally would rather be served messages tailored to my specific interests than being forced to read through a series of advertisements that bear no meaning for me. We are not alone in using this tactic. Marketing teams have some variation of this in their own online practices in order to stay relevant to their consumers. Clients and prospects who interact with us have engaged in a contract of sorts that the things we learn about them through our digital interactions will be respected and valued. The more data we collect, the more we recognize how important our responsibility is to serve.  

These methods of marketing research are essential nowadays. It is not just staying relevant to your customers, it is knowing your customers. It is teaching market trends and providing a SWOT analysis (strenths, weakness, opportunites and threat) of the company. And most importantly, it is providing a scope of how effective your marketing tactics are. Using collected data is a problem solver among other things. It allows us to examine our marketing strategies and also determine where we may be lacking from a business standpoint.

For the record, it has become crystal clear to me that the relative ease with which one can collect data on clients and prospects is rather frightening. Now, the new question is how are companies storing that information? Is the data secure? It seems as if every day there is a new report of a data breach at companies that range from 20 employees to Fortune 1,000. If the Fortune 1,000 can’t protect their data, how well do you think it is being protected at all the medium-size companies and small businesses, where IT teams are not as robust?

I keep thinking that in addition to stealing credit card and other financial data, hackers can also steal all the experience data marketers are collecting. Basically, they can steal a look inside someone’s brain. Now, not only do I have to fear that someone could steal my debit card number, but also that a hacker can get a look at the data stored in the recesses of my mind.

Cyber-attacks can result directly from deliberate actions of hackers, or attacks can be unintentionally facilitated by employees. Therefore, marketing employees’ lack of cyber security knowledge can pose one of the greatest risks to an organization’s network security. Hackers often send “phishing” emails that contain viruses which can then be opened by unsuspecting employees. Also, employees logging on to the company network using an unprotected Wi-Fi connection may open the network to vulnerability and help hackers access all sorts of data, including marketing insights.

Properly trained employees are the first line of defense against a cyber-attack. HR, working in conjunction with IT, should consider implementing training for employees on preventing data breaches upon being hired. The training for employees should include education on different types of exposures and on how employees can protect against security breaches. Employee training should also include instructions on what to do in the event of a suspected or confirmed cyber-attack. For example, what  happens if email campaigns are compromised , along with unsolicited ads? 

Employee training on cyber security should be a priority for all organizations, regardless of size. Hackers don’t discriminate in their targets. They even go after small and mid-size companies knowing that these organizations frequently have fewer safeguards in place

In the marketing field, if you are doing any form of data collection, make 100 percent certain your company is operating with the appropriate levels of cyber liability protection. We are moving quickly into an era that extends beyond the danger of protecting financial data. I suspect the next wave of liability will be from businesses failing to protect clients and prospects’ personal likes and dislikes. Can you imagine hackers stealing your collected marketing research and selling it to a competitor? It could happen. So remember, with great data comes great responsibility.

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