Cambridge Analytica, Data Privacy & Your Marketing Strategy

Cambridge Analytica, Data Privacy & Your Marketing Strategy

Technology and data privacy has come to the forefront of our political news in recent days, as the shocking revelation of the work of Cambridge Analytica has come to light and it bears important lessons for the business and marketing strategy for every company involved in digital marketing today.

Cambridge Analytica is a data mining company that pairs information with strategic analysis for clients that include commercial, political and government organizations. Known as psychographic profiling, the process Cambridge Analytica uses examines both demographic and behavioral data of the target audience to determine the most effective messaging that will influence the audience to responding to the desired message.

Psychographic profiling is not a new concept; it has history dating back for several decades in the world of marketing research. Popular marketing software providers like Wordstream and Hubspot tout the benefits for marketers to use psychographic profiling to develop better and more effective messaging, and all marketing automation companies encourage the development of these profiles from your existing customer base for better campaign performance.

In the case of Cambridge Analytica, however, psychographic profiling and analysis went to a whole new level.

According to the current reports, the company was able to acquire the data of more than 50 million Facebook users through the cooperation of Aleksandr Kogan, an academic at Cambridge University who had permission to collect the data of Facebook users who participated in his psychological survey app, as well as that of their friends. This data was then used in the development of their marketing strategy that targeted political advertising for voter influence campaigns and may also have been used in the creation of “fake news” related to those campaigns.

How the Cambridge Analytica Story Affects Your Digital Marketing Strategy

While the investigation of exactly what Cambridge Analytica did and didn’t do, as well as the legality of their actions, is still ongoing; this shouldn’t prevent business leaders from examining their current business and marketing strategies to evaluate the current use of existing and acquired data and exactly what policies are (or should be) in effect for ethical use. This is an important trust and credibility issue for your organization as consumers become more and more aware of the availability of their data online. Facebook has already paid a price with a significant stock drop in the first days of the public news of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and although Facebook has the scale and means to recover from this kind of event, your business may not be so fortunate.

Whether you are in the business of warehousing data about your customers or merely utilizing it for your own marketing or business goals, your company should have clear, ethical guidelines set and published that direct your use of that data toward your marketing strategy and tactics. If you are acquiring data for marketing campaigns, know where that data is coming from and ensure that your providers have the same ethical commitment that you have to the privacy and treatment of user data. Internally, you can help avoid PR disasters by taking straight forward steps to data and privacy that build brand trust such as:

  1. Protecting the data of your customers and/or users
    Even if you are not a tech company, the establishment of systems that protect the data of your own customers is vital to a brand that is trusted and maintains consumer confidence. IT, Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Finance and all departments with access to confidential data must be brought together to understand the need for data protection and the steps required to provide it for your customers. Make this a top priority item for your entire organization so your customers know they are the foremost concern.
  2. Informing your customers/users of your data protection policies
    Industries regulated by the federal government, such as finance, are required to send regular notifications to customers regarding their use and sharing of data. If you are not regulated, you should still have your data protection policy available publicly for your customers to see. Your website also should have a privacy policy available for all users, even anonymous visitors, to show your commitment to disclosure. Default to transparency so your customers and users can feel comfortable sharing data because they understand what you’re doing with it.
  3. Carefully consider your marketing strategy and tactics
    Don’t just think about what you can do, but what you should do. There is nothing wrong with creating psychographic profiles to better understand your audience and what messages they respond to. But developing a marketing strategy and the tactics to support it should be ethical and not manipulative. If your actions cross a line in the digital world that you wouldn’t let your employees cross in the real one, it’s time to step back. “Marketing Ethics” shouldn’t be an oxymoron.

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