74% of CMOs say ‘Data Ethics’ will be more important to their role in the next five years

/ 11 August 2020

New research from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has revealed that almost three-quarters (74%) of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) expect Data Ethics to become more important in their roles over the next five years.

The research surveyed 147 senior marketers representing companies with a global ad spend of $55bn. 82% said they’d consider leaving their employer if they felt the approach to data was unethical.

Coinciding with the research findings, the WFA released a guide outlining data ethics principles and the case for action.

“Data Ethics stands on the shoulders of data privacy, filling the white space between having the right to do something and doing the right things,” says the report.

The approach being advocated is that Data Ethics isn’t just about adhering to GDPR, CCPA or similar regulatory implementation but going beyond it; moving “from a mindset of ‘data first’ to ‘people first’.” It is then, not about finding ways around restrictions, but accepting that the old ways were simply not sustainable. Agreed.

“More than ever, people expect full transparency, control and choice over how their data is shared and used by companies…as an industry, need to take a proactive approach and demonstrate to consumers that we respect them and their data,” says Raja Rajamannar Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Mastercard & WFA President in the paper.

We’ve long talked about the importance of ‘Earned Data’; data that people volunteer in order to improve their experience, with full understanding of how it’s to be used, and as part of a genuine value exchange. Businesses don’t need to know everything about customers (and it’s highly unlikely that customers would want them to); rather, they need accurate and actionable data on which to improve their service. That doesn’t necessarily mean personalisation; personalisation for the sake of it can be creepy and unnecessary. But relevant information that improves consumer experience benefits everyone. 

It’s not good enough to gather information in the background about people and make assumptions. And that’s not just because of the ethical considerations, which would be more than enough on their own, but because it can be horribly ineffective.

The idea of ‘digital twins’ (the more we use digital tech, the more data is gathered to build a digital twin that can be targeted) is raised as an ethical concern in the report. I would add an additional concern for marketers, the accuracy of that ‘twin’. Have you checked out the profile Google has built for you? Head over to ‘ad personalization’ in your account settings to take a look. If yours is anything like mine, it’s more like a distant, third cousin than a ‘twin’.

And that’s an important point; practicing Data Ethics and ‘Earning Data’ shouldn’t be seen as noble sacrifices, but rather as an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of marketing. Transparency, value exchange and trust are much more solid foundations than surveillance, crumbs of information and inference.

As Lubomira Rochet, Chief Digital Officer at L’Oréal says in the report, “Consumers’ trust is the number one currency for our brands and the reason why we need to rethink data sharing as true value exchange. We need the entire industry to shift towards a more positive, transparent approach to data.”

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