The Wall Street Journal wrote about it last Thursday January 30th in an article entitled ‘How a Family Tragedy Landed on a Retailer’s Mailing’
Forbes wrote about it the week prior –
‘OfficeMax Blames Data Broker For ‘Daughter Killed in Car Crash’ Letter’.
It sounds ugly and the natural (and correct) reaction is to think ‘those poor people who have to deal with stupid and insensitive marketers. How could they allow something like this to happen?’ When it comes to data appending, which is the longtime practice of using multiple sources of data to create a more detailed (and more valuable to marketers) individual customer profile, the genie has been out of the bottle for a very long time.
Obviously in this case the act of combining existing data on the parents with this new information went horribly wrong. I submit that it is extremely unfortunate when things like this occur but it is not criminal, it is not duplicitous and it will happen again and again since there are human beings involved and we all make mistakes. In this instance there is a good deal of public information regarding the tragic death of a high school student. The information regarding her passing was not information that was traded behind the curtain.
Being a partner in a marketing services agency that founds much of its actions on what we call ‘Marketing Science’ we are keenly aware of the value of using data and science to help us make smarter marketing decisions on behalf of our clients. As a long time direct marketer myself I have been deeply involved in using data for more than thirty years. That does not mean I do not value my privacy in fact the opposite is true.
However I am also aware that the appropriate use of data to make offers to individuals (in the internet world it is most often in the form of an IP address not an actual known individual) based on their behaviors and proclivities. Isn’t it possible that at a future date reviewing the customer profile of the Seay family (the parents of the daughter killed in the car crash) might provide a charity an opportunity to reach out to help the Seay’s emotionally, financially or otherwise?
This is not 1914 it’s 2014. We are decidedly not going back to the days where everyone’s data will be put back the way it was, behind the curtain with little knowledge of people’s profiles and behaviors. It’s not the data itself, it’s how the data is then employed.
To be clear, I am 100% committed to the protection of one’s own personal data. At the same time I am committed to best practice utilization of behavioral and attitudinal consumer data. Customer Profile data appending must be done in both a legal and ethical manner.
Do you believe it is possible?