Consumer Data: Are Attitudes about Sharing with Brands Shifting?

You don’t have to have been an internet user fifteen years ago to know things were different then; it was the time of dial-up and buffering videos, when ecommerce was novel and social media had yet to lay its claim on our souls. Personal data was something to be guarded closely and so when ad platform DoubleClick purchased catalog data collection agency Abacus, the first major privacy scandal of the digital age erupted. Privacy advocates rallied against merging offline and online data and ultimately inspired a set of rules that would help safe-guard personally identifiable information (PII) from marketers.
Fast forward 15+ years and behavioral and location targeting are standard fare in advertising. Marketers are using in-store transaction data to optimize digital retention programs and, conversely, gauging the success of online campaigns with in-store data. Yes—they are marrying online with offline data, the same idea that ignited the milestone scandal. This widespread shift recently prompted privacy expert Allen Chappell to raise the question whether or not it was time to revisit the controls put in place as a result of the DoubleClick/Abacus deal.
More intriguing is the fact that, unlike fifteen years ago, consumers are now freely and frequently sharing personal photos of their pets, homes and children, announcing political and religious views, medical conditions and their location online. They’re surrendering personal information for the sake of learning what their zombie name would be, or what career they might have had had they been born left-handed. Is it possible that the tide against sharing has turned?
A new study released by Columbia Business School and AIMIA investigates this. “What is the Future of Data Sharing: Consumer Mindsets and the Power of Brands”, authored by Matthew Quint and David Rogers, surveyed 8000 respondents across four generations (Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation) and five countries (US, UK, Canada, France and India) to gain insight into what, how, and why consumers are willing to share their personal data with companies.
By examining attitudes around different kinds of data—name, address, phone number, email, purchase history and lifestyle info—the study showed that consumers are able to make distinctions between personally identifiable and other types of information, and that they understand sharing some data points makes them more vulnerable than others. However, even with this knowledge, 70% of those surveyed would still consider sharing that personal information. They offered a framework on which to better understand the range of attitudes around sharing.
The Data Sharing Mindset
By comparing respondents’ level of defense and happiness about sharing, the study identified identified 4 “data-sharing mindsets”.
“Defenders”, or those that are unwilling to share data and/or take defensive action against sharing (such as giving false information or making efforts to limit how they are tracked online) represent the largest of the four segments. Still, their active resistance leaves them in the minority; 67% of those surveyed were either willing to share data or, somewhat pessimistically, resigned to sharing it. While it didn’t prevent consumers from sharing, that negative attitude toward sharing characterized the majority (66%) of respondents.
So, essentially, consumers are sharing data even when they aren’t necessarily “happy” about doing so. What, then, is driving this action?
The Motivation for Sharing Personal Data
Naturally, trust plays a role here; 75% of those surveyed were more likely to share data with a brand they trust. The study presented a fairly optimistic view of the state of brand and consumer relations in that most of those surveyed acknowledged at least one brand they trusted across the six industries presented, including Financial Services, Retail and Airlines.
Interestingly, Financial Services stood out as the industry for which most consumers identified a trusted brand, perhaps suggesting they believe that these companies are more conscientious when it comes to safeguarding the information with which they are entrusted.
Another key factor is value. The study showed that offers have an influence on whether or not consumers shared data with brands, as well as what data they shared. An offer might entail signing up for a newsletter to get a discount, registering for a “shopping club”, joining a loyalty program, or gaining access to special events. Not surprisingly, financial incentives like cash back and discounts scored most effective. (In a sense, this becomes more of a barter than sharing. Along these lines, as authors Quint and Rogers noted, the World Economic Forum is researching personal data’s potential as a new asset class.)
The study also recognized the trend toward “non-traditional, data-enabled benefits”, such as Security, User Experience, Societal and Insight benefits.  Product recommendations, as offered by Netflix and Amazon, fall into this group. So do services like Mint and Billguard which, in their promise to support financial decisions, aggregate data that’s more sensitive than your late night Narcos binge-viewing. And, any content marketer will find validation in the role that Insights play in acquiring customer data. (There is some irony in the fact that, among the non-traditional benefits that drive consumers to share their sensitive personal information, Security topped the list.)
Sharing is Not a Reflection of Comfort
Despite a willingness to share, the survey reflects the general sense that consumers aren’t comfortable with how companies handle their data. Even among Millennials who—correlating to a recent Nielsen survey—weighed in as the most trusting age group, only 51% felt comfortable with how companies handle data. And, across generations, the vast majority of those surveyed expressed the desire to have more information about the data companies collect (85%) and (86%) wanted greater control over that data. The study posits that “due to increasing attention drawn to data theft, loss and monitoring… many people with Happy Go Lucky or Resigned mindsets in the past would have become Savvy and In Control or Defenders.”
The recent surge in downloads of ad blocking applications supports this. While the IAB and Digiday have each noted the motivation for ad blockers is more about user experience than privacy, the act of downloading—and even paying to download—ad blockers demonstrates that consumers are more aware of, and increasingly taking action against, unsatisfying relationship with brands online. This, in turn, puts brands on the defensive. What can they do to to make consumers more comfortable?
What the Future of Data Sharing Means for Brands
Just because consumers share pictures of their family vacation on Facebook or pin their Thanksgiving dinner menu, brands shouldn’t assume that they’ll benefit from any general trend toward sharing. Instead, they need to focus on building trust, which means being transparent about their collection and use of data and respectful of consumers’ fear and desire for control. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, and in broad strokes mirrors the guidelines that came into play some fifteen years ago.
More exciting, however, is the opportunity to create data-enabled incentives that make sharing with brands worthwhile, and maybe even irresistible, to consumers. This is both compelling and challenging because, unlike the traditional email-for-discount exchange, the best expression of data-enabled incentives isn’t one-size-fits-all. Some will be experiential and deeply tied to the product—think of anyone who has easily surrendered their location to catch an Uber—while others might be more complementary. For example, Saatchi’s recent “Digital Pawprint” campaign aims to match users with their perfect pet by targeting banners based on digital behavior.
Either way, brands are challenged to dig deeper. They must apply the insight they already have on audiences to construct worthwhile incentives that draw further insight and, ultimately, grow their business. By offering creative and value-driven benefits, supported by transparency and trust, brands can build a more meaningful exchange with consumers today. They’ll also be better prepared for the next, bigger wave of data that’s coming with our wearable and IoT future.

What Is a Research and Analysis Company For, Today?

I’m interested in directing my efforts today — and those of the analysts and others who are joining me here, at the new Gigaom Research — toward organizing something new, something better suited to the times we are living and working in.Here’s the understatement of the year: These have been a very fast-paced few months. In early July, I signed up with the new Gigaom Research as the first and only analyst working here, and now — just over two months later — I’ve been joined by over 20 other analysts and researchers, signed up a growing list of clients, and started the process of building a new and substantially different Gigaom Research.
As an aspect of that project, I’ve taken on the role of Managing Director of Gigaom Research. Leaving aside the issue of how the old defunct Giga Omni Media was managed, I’m interested in directing my efforts today — and those of the analysts and others who are joining me here, at the new Gigaom Research — toward organizing something new, something better suited to the times we are living and working in, as well as remaining sustainable, agile, and profitable.
To attack that, I decided to first answer a core question: what is a research and analysis company for, today?
On a superficial level, answering that question for Gigaom Research is simple, although multi-faceted:

  1. Gigaom Research is focused on helping business leaders grapple with the implications of emerging technologies on their companies. To accomplish that, we need deep expertise in those technologies, an up-to-date understanding of their application in business, and an appreciation of the organizational and workforce dimensions of technology adoption. While we aren’t in the management consulting business, guiding customers through digital transformation and the like, we must understand the forces and fissures associated with technologically-induced change and innovation.
  2. Gigaom Research works closely with technology vendors developing the emerging technologies that define our world, providing research on markets and trends driving adoption, and the needs and challenges of businesses that are the buyers and users of these tools. While we aren’t in the business of designing and building hardware, software or everything in between, we need to stay very close to the bleeding edge of technological innovation, and therefore can advise and provide market intelligence to our vendor clients.

Therefore, there are two complementary sides to Gigaom Research: one working with vendors creating the tools and technology platforms that define our world, and another working with companies increasingly reliant on those tools, technologies, and techniques to apply them in their businesses.
We plan to transition away from a subscription-based business model toward one based on dialog, interaction, and participation.However, the Gigaom Research of old was based on a publishing model: writing reports — and to a lesser extent, blogging — about technologies, tools, and their impacts on business. By early 2014 it was becoming clear that the larger part of Gigaom Research’s value for vendors was in the application of our analysts’ understanding of markets and trends to vendor’s plans and strategies. Although the old Gigaom Research had an offering for business clients, called Buyers Lens, it was not much more than a subscription to our basic research, with perhaps a small amount of inquiry time included. And most important: such reports are immediately out of date as soon as published. As a result, we plan to transition away from a subscription-based business model toward one based on dialog, interaction, and participation. I will be writing more about that next month.
On both sides of our business model, we will be working to create greater opportunities for direct involvement with clients:

  • On one side, we are planning to launch the Gigaom Research Council, a community for business leaders whose responsibilities involve understanding the implications of emerging technologies in their companies. These are change agents, heads of innovation and digital, along with others revamping their organizations to better compete in a time of accelerating volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity. This effort will be led by my colleague and long-time contributor Larry Hawes, with a great deal of support from me and other analysts.
  • On the vendor side, we will be bringing our deep awareness of what’s going on in the workforce and workplace to guide vendors in their efforts to bring new offerings to market, expand the adoption of today’s tools, and to create more effective connections with their users and markets.

Simply writing dozens of reports — however insightful and well-targeted — will not get our clients where they want and need to be.These both will require us to provide new ways to connect and communicate with clients. Simply writing dozens of reports — however insightful and well-targeted — will not get our clients where they want and need to be.
I’ve already written about how we are going to be moving away from statically-defined and siloed technology-centric focus areas for research (see Rebooting Gigaom Research). In the next iteration of our website — and in the way we are already reorganizing our services — we won’t be slotting our work into ‘mobile’ versus ‘Internet of things’ versus ‘Data’. Instead we will be developing a cascade of trends and issues, and tagging our work appropriately. For example, I’ve talked with a number of clients recently about the apparent rebound of email as a platform for communication and technology innovation. That thread will be — on the coming-soon revamped website — tagged (and searchable) as #email-as-a-platform, under the larger theme of #cotech, which is a term I am introducing for technologies that support coworking (all the ‘co’ words: ‘coordination’, ‘collaboration’, ‘coauthoring’, ‘coediting’, ‘cooperating’, ‘cocurating’ and so on). And instead of seeking to write one or two reports on that topic, instead we would be involved in much more active and ‘living’ research. For example, we might have a few analysts participate in an online and open demo of a tool that leverages email as a platform, and we’d publish the discussion of their thoughts on that tool and those ideas. That might lead to discussions with vendors on one side, and members of the Research Council on the other. A week later we might decide to run a survey in the Council on some of those ideas, and we’d publish a Trend Brief — one of our short reports — on the findings. And that might lead to a cascade of other interactions, writing, and analysis.
All of this is significantly different from the old Gigaom Research, but such cascades of activities will become the modus operandi of the new Gigaom Research, going forward.
This is, then, a call to action.
For existing or prospective business clients who are looking for a new, deeper, and more open approach to leveraging analysis and research for their companies, we are eager to engage. Please start with this request for more information, so that we can initiate a dialogue about your company’s needs and how they might align with our new Gigaom Research Council.
For current or future vendor clients, we welcome a chance to talk, to develop a closer strategic relationship, and to work jointly to triangulate market movements and trends. Please contact me to open that discussion. I’ve spoken with dozens of vendor representatives — CEOs, head of analyst relations, CMOs, product leads — in the past few months, and I have learned a great deal through those calls and meetings. I welcome the chance to learn more.
We are going to need a new cadre of aggressive and dissatisfied analysts to join us.For analysts interested in the opportunities at Gigaom Research, we are recruiting. I’ve been fortunate in that so many of the most insightful and active analysts from the old Gigaom Research have been willing to sign up with the new Gigaom Research, but we are going to need a new cadre of aggressive and dissatisfied analysts to join us, as well.
First of all, we’ve adopted a much more researcher-centric operational model, and at this point we have not brought aboard dedicated business development or sales staff. But the new Gigaom Research will need highly motivated and deeply knowledgeable research leads and research directors: practitioners with the expertise and skills to be able to work closely with our clients, to deliver value in this new regime, and to be able to close and manage engagements.
We are rebooting Gigaom Research in an era that demands a new model of operations, one better suited to the times, forces and trends that are shaping the markets and economics that confront our clients.But honestly, if you are interested in a 9-5 analyst job — an ivory tower gig updating last years’ report using a five-year old analytic framework — please don’t even bother. If you contact us, be hungry, and please start by making a list of companies and contacts you think are candidates for Gigaom Research services, lay out a plan of engagement, and we’ll open a mutual dialog with them as soon as practical.
The bottom line: we are rebooting Gigaom Research in an era that demands a new model of operations, one better suited to the times, forces and trends that are shaping the markets and economics that confront our clients. I welcome your involvement, whether you are a change agent at a Fortune 1000 corporation, a product manager at innovative software start-up, or a underutilized and hungry researcher at one of our competitors.
Let’s get busy.