I recently attended an industry business function and was delighted to catch up with colleagues I hadn’t seen in a while. We picked up right where we left off with a number of interesting conversations. But, then I caught sight of that person – you know who I’m talking about – the one you avoid because they talk at you instead of engaging with something interesting to say. I avoided that person, because he doesn’t understand the difference between cool and creepy.

When asked my views on personalization and customer data exchange, it’s as simple as the scenario I just described. Just like the difference between the creeper at the party and the cool colleagues, you’re either building a meaningful relationship – or you aren’t.  A brand that draws you in is interesting and engaging while the one you avoid relentlessly likely blasts you with broadcasted messages that are only relevant to the brand itself. 

When done right, brands can use customer data to build relationships with individuals and offer concierge-level experiences. The “State of the Connected Customer” report found that 57% of consumers are willing to give up personal information and data, but there has to be a return. Think about the iPhone fingerprint login or Google Maps. Customers will offer extremely personal biometric and location information for the sake of a quick login or an easy way to navigate traffic. Ultimately, consumers must feel that they’re giving marketers their data, not that marketers are creepily stalking and taking their information behind the scenes.

To avoid being that creeper at the party, marketers should consider these three customer data rules:

Rule 1: There Must Be Benefit for the Exchange

Good relationships are built on trust and respect, so it’s important to provide value in the form of the right content or offers. When personalization is out of context or gets in the way of the intended path, customers will be less than thrilled with the experience. On the contrary, when being prompted to provide personal information helps you understand what you want and need, like an online questionnaire to select the care option for a loved-one in need, value is exchanged and trust is established. 

Rule 2: Keep Data Between Your Brand and the Customer

Many brands sell customer data, but if you’re going to do it, know that there is risk. When that data is sold, marketers lose control because there’s no way to know exactly where it goes or how it is used. Not only does it cheapen the data and annoy customers, running it through third parties adds risk, which can lead to a lack of trust. A true business relationship is exclusive to the brand and its customer, period. 

Rule 3: Collect Only What You Need

Remember when our parents told us to only take the food we were actually going to eat? The same goes for data. Rather than filling your plate with customer information, limit collection to the areas that facilitate the relationship and can truly benefit the customer experience. When brands aren’t gluttonous with customer data, the exchange becomes natural – like the cool colleagues at the party – and customers are more likely to trust brands with valuable details.

So, now that we have laid the groundwork for data collection, how do we go about using that data to deliver the content and services customers want? Here’s how marketers can use data to build long-lasting relationships with customers. 

  1. Define your customer experience: Determine your goals, what you want from your customer, and then map it out. From there, you’ll be able to design an effective plan to capture the attention – and loyalty – of your customers!
  2. Define your data model:  What do you want to learn from your customers and how will you use that information? This will help you avoid many data collection pitfalls.
  3. Determine value exchange for every interaction: Yes, every single one. Customer information is theirs to keep, so you have to make a compelling case for them to share it with you.
  4. Create great content: The right content can delight and engage customers, and one of the best ways to add value is through relevant messaging that guides them seamlessly through the customer journey.
  5. Know every customer and shape every experience in real-time: Make it your goal to do this at scale. Your customers will thank you.
  6. Look for ways to harness and clarify big data in your contextual insights: When collecting customer data, don’t look at it in a silo. If you look at that data in context with the entire customer journey, you’ll gain a much more comprehensive view of behavior and intent.
  7. Line up your technology to support the plan: Technology should support your engagement strategy, not the other way around. Look for flexible, scalable solutions that will take you to the next level so you can better serve your customers.
  8. Deploy, learn, adjust: We are marketers, after all, so testing, understanding results, and making subsequent adjustments should always be part of the program.

Customers are increasingly expecting engagements to take place on their terms – not ours. Customer data can be the key to unlocking a long-term, personalized relationship between brand and customer. But, it’s important to collect and use that data wisely to preserve the trusted relationship between customer and brand. Rather than lurking around the party trying to glean details while broadcasting irrelevant communications, think about delivering amazing service in exchange for personal information. When it all comes down to customer data exchange, there’s really not a fine line between the role of creeper or the cool colleague. It’s simple, as marketers we simply need to treat our customers as we want to be treated.