We Know All Your Secrets. Please Trust Us.

It’s the quarterly issue of Data Strategy in Marketing Week this week. The focus is privacy and trust. Nicola Smith notes how some consumers are becoming noisier about corporate information mining. Especially following the rise in awareness of identity theft and international spying. But why?

A lot of people aren’t worried about data mining because it’s invasive. They’re worried because brands paying this much attention to everything you do is just plain creepy.

What we’re seeing here is a clash of narratives.

Large corporations still see themselves as paternalistic. Like a parent to a child, they expect us to trust them.

Verbal Identity looks at big data and the paternalistic role of brands.

BA’s “To Fly, To Serve”. In case you were wondering, it’s a visual metaphor.

And we do trust them. We trust them to check their supply chain to make sure the £12 pair of jeans wasn’t stitched by Bangladeshi child labour. And that it really was beef in the beef burger I just swallowed.

That’s what fathers are for, after all.

But how would you feel if  Dad told you he’d been reading your diary all these years? 

While big brands project themselves as playing it like they’re doing it for our own good (dads always say this), consumers don’t believe it. Instead, they reach for a more obvious narrative: the one about large corporations being in it to make a buck.

And consumers have a personal narrative, too. One of liberty. Of John Stuart Mill’s unknowable “sovereign individual”. People don’t like being watched. And they like the idea that it’s worth watching them because they act in a way that’s predictable, modellable, and fundamentally boring even less.

What to do? As always, we start by recommending that brand owners take a look at brand language.

The way that the marketing departments talk about data doesn’t exactly help things. “Big Data” is a term that sounds vaguely threatening on its own. “Data” implies the reduction of human beings to a series of commodified, soulless numbers.

And as Number 6 will tell you, people just don’t like that.

But consumers also require a new, believable narrative that will let them trust and understand “big data”. Otherwise, their (our) willingness to accept being watched will always be undercut with a feeling of resentment.

If you’d like to talk to us about what a good narrative can do – either for your brand’s verbal identity or your data strategy – email Chris.

Verbal Identity is committed to the responsible and ethical handling of your data. So the emails about discount Rolexes almost certainly have nothing to do with us.