Big Ideas

Getting the Facts?

by Minda Zetlin

May 2016

Modern marketing campaigns run on information, specifically the information automated systems can gather from a customer or prospect’s online behavior (known as digital body language) and also from information they themselves provide, for instance, while creating a user account.

The only problem is that there is increasing pushback against gathering both types of data. “We work with many clients who are trying to leverage loyalty programs, but there are privacy protections and opt-in protections preventing them,” notes Rebecca Brooks, founder of Los Angeles, California–based market research firm Alter Agents.


These protections are particularly strong in Europe, where governments place a high value on keeping personal information private for both customers and employees. “Privacy concerns are in some way a response to what companies are doing to collect data,” says Joe Webb, global lead at TNS Connected Solutions, which produces the annual Connected Life study for London, England–based market research firm TNS. In many cases, the best solution is to ask customers and prospective customers to provide information voluntarily, but these days that’s best accomplished by offering them something in return. For example, the power management company Eaton recently completed a campaign in which participants could play a Where’s Waldo–like search game online, looking for Eaton desk toys in various settings. Prizes included the toys, as well as hats and T-shirts.

Participants were asked to provide relevant data about themselves and their companies—one piece at a time each time they played a daily round of the game. They were also asked to answer familiarity questions about Eaton products, as a way to both gauge their knowledge of Eaton and also educate them about the company and its offerings. If they answered the questions (correctly or not), they were rewarded with extra game play. “They started out with 30 seconds on the clock. If they answered the familiarity question, it went to 60 seconds,” says Christine Woodhouse, marketing manager of campaigns for Eaton.

This strategy proved quite successful: About 6,000 people played the game, and about 85 percent of them are potential Eaton customers, Woodhouse says. About 4,500 were new prospects who were not yet in the company’s database.

“When we collect data there’s an immediate return to the customer,” says Bronwyn Sims, head of behavioral communications and analytics at the media company REA Group, which owns For example, the company has a keen interest in learning a user’s address, from which it can infer a lot of demographic information. So the site offers a free valuation tool that gives users an idea of what their home is worth. “If they get a valuation on their property, they’re happier to give their address,” she notes.

More marketers need to take this kind of approach, she adds. “If customers are going to provide information, they want you to do something with it that’s of benefit to them and not just you,” she says. “I think in marketing, we’ve gotten used to collecting information because we need it, not because it’s useful to the people we’re collecting it from.”

Times are changing, she says. “People will get savvier around the fact that their data is worth something, and want something in return.”

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