Insensitive Use of Personal Data Can Seem Downright Creepy

personal data

Brands need to think carefully about how they leverage new levels of customer information when handing iPads to front-line service people. Using data and behavior-driven information, while a powerful way to forge connections, can easily go awry.

I wasn’t too surprised when I read this in Michael Schrage’s HBR piece, “When digital marketing gets too creepy”.

“The digital marketer who effectively runs Qantas Airlines’ highly regarded – and very successful – loyalty program has an unusual iPad problem. Flight attendants on Australia’s flagship carrier can now get up-to-the-minute data on the airline’s most elite and valued frequent flyers displayed on their onboard tablets. The information is useful, helpful, and the app was a digital innovation actually sought by Qantas staff.”

“The unhappy catch? Too many flight attendants sounded like they were reading from a script when using this information with these valued customers. They couldn’t smoothly incorporate the customized data to authentically connect with their frequent flyers. Instead of making their best customers feel special, the data-driven app too often creeped them out.”

Don’t creep people out!

Leave that to the NSA, et al.

Employ empathetic, purposeful, and emotional approaches when moving into more intense data-driven marketing.


Step out of your corporate shoes, and walk (or fly) a mile or two in those of your customers. Understand their desire for meaningful connections, yet wariness about over-familiarity, invasiveness, and “big brother” knowledge.


Establish a purposeful intent to your digital marketing strategy – get all front-line people to understand what you’re trying to achieve, and what you’re trying to avoid.


Orientate front-line people (and indeed the data you provide them) around delivering messages built on customer patterns, behavior, preferences, etc. in ways that are designed to evoke specific emotions that turn your data insights into welcome, friendly, and meaningful moments between your caring brand and the customer seeking care.

Soon data will prevail in virtually all customer relationships

To once again quote Michael Schrage:

“Before the decade’s end, even minimum wage customer service personnel will have real-time access to remarkable amounts of personal data of customers walking into Starbucks, McDonalds, Walmarts, and/or Walgreens. Should customer experience be better defined by employees who enjoy greater familiarity or a studied distance? Who owns the answer to that vital human capital and customer care concern?”

The more customer data an enterprise has, the more that kind of accountability matters.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy firm.

Image Credit.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *