The Ethics of Privacy: The Benefits of Data Gathering

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 My family vacations at an amazing place called The Chautauqua Institution: summer camp for the kids, a daily lecture series for adults, and symphonies and ballets in the evening for everyone. Each week is given a theme. This year, we’ll be there for the week centered on “The Ethics of Privacy.”

In anticipation, my husband and I excitedly perused the speaker bios and noticed a government security expert, an author on social media for teenagers, and a constitutional rights advocate, but not one speaker from the business community. I was shocked, and wondered if the general public had any idea who collects the most information on individuals: the corporate sector. Just look at data collection company Acxiom, which claims it has data on 700 million consumers globally. Another, Datalogix, claims its information “includes almost every US household.”

As a CMO, I leverage data on individuals on a daily basis to improve my marketing efforts. I also work for a business intelligence company that helps corporations make sense of their own data and make better business decisions. While Domo isn’t in the business of data collection, I have often considered the ethical implications of large-scale data gathering. Ultimately, I’ve noticed the prevalence of data collection across many facets of our every day lives. In particular:

  • Almost everything we do leaves a digital footprint. I first realized advertisers were paying attention to what I was doing online in the 1990s. I was single and noticed that I was seeing online ads almost exclusively for online dating sites and cheap airfare to my hometown. Funny enough, my mom had been nagging me both to find a husband and come visit more often.  Was my web browser talking to my Mom? After putting two and two together it was clear that an online advertising company was watching my online behavior and targeting me with ads based on my interests. This was nearly 15 years ago and online data gathering has only grown more advanced and complex since then.
  • Consumers’ reaction to online vs. offline data gathering varies significantly. Imagine this scenario: You walk into a home improvement store and hear the loud speaker announce, “YOUR NAME has arrived. He works at Acme Company, which reports $100 million in revenue. He has recently visited stores of two competitors and his recent purchases include faucets and toilets. He spends the most time in the BBQ aisle, but has not yet purchased one.” An employee then proceeds to put an ankle bracelet on you to track your movements inside and outside the store. Although it sounds far-fetched, this is exactly what happens online.
  • Data gathering and analysis isn’t contained to the online world. Offline data gathering is also happening everywhere you turn. At a recent tradeshow, I spoke with an executive from a DVR company that gathers and combines data for advertisers. This company could has the ability to see that my household watched a recording of Downton Abbey last night, and that I didn’t skip through the Pampers commercial and then bought diapers at my local grocery store the next day. The DVR company can then sell advertising to Procter & Gamble, and the Zynczak household would start to get a lot more advertisements during Downton Abbey for diapers.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. While critical privacy issues can and should be addressed, the ability to leverage data offers great benefits to both businesses and consumers in a way that I believe far outweighs the concerns. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Greater convenience. I love to dream about the refrigerator that automatically orders milk and eggs for me when I run out. I work a demanding job while raising three small children, and if retailers can make my life run more efficiently by gathering data, I’m all for it. Anything that will help me spend more time on my priorities (family and work) and less on shopping and errands is a win in my book.
  1. Better experiences. Companies are now able to track and record your preferences at a much more sophisticated and advanced level and use them to provide a more tailored experience. Ritz Carlton has been doing this for decades—my husband loves the warm chocolate cookies (his favorite) waiting every time we stay at a Ritz. And I love that I don’t have to weed through unhelpful reviews on Amazon when selecting a new book. Or that Google uses my search history to help me find what I’m looking for instantly.
  1. More value. By tracking data, companies can be more efficient with their spend and offer customers a more valuable product or service. As a marketer, I can use data to truly target only my potential customers, and this immediately impacts the bottom line. And when companies perform more profitably, they do better on the stock market and the entire economy benefits.

These are just a few examples of how data vastly improves the consumer experience. As a marketer, I believe we have the responsibility to ensure consumers are informed and aware of the information being gathered about them. But as a consumer, I suggest we leave our Orwellian fears at the door and relish the fact that, even when compared to just a few years ago, data gathering has revolutionized the way we live by making many aspects of our day-to-day routine incredibly convenient and far more enjoyable.

 

 

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Creativity Isn’t Enough—Why Modern-Day Marketers Must Develop a High Data IQ

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In anticipation of the final season of Mad Men kicking off later this month, I’ve been reflecting on how different the landscape is for marketers in the year 2014. I’d love if my days looked like Don Draper’s — developing creative ad campaigns in the morning and then rewarding myself for a job well done with a “three martini” lunch. Unfortunately, times have changed and now creativity is only half of the battle.

In today’s fast-paced environment, the efficiency of our marketing efforts relies almost entirely on our ability to turn data into insights that will direct our campaign efforts—in other words, our success depends on our data IQ. A recent survey showed 87 percent of marketers rely on data to do their jobs well. All marketers need it, and the best marketers have it in spades.

Pairing your creative intuition with a high data IQ has never been more important. Here’s why:

1. Data validates the “crazy” ideas.

Marketers are paid to explore new territory, creatively, and are continually searching for an out-of-the-box idea that will catch the attention of their target audience. But without assurance that such strokes of brilliance will result in positive ROI for our company, we often get stuck making the “safe” bet instead of pushing marketing strategies to their limits.

Being a modern marketer, I rely on real-time results of every activity undertaken, which allows me try new things and take more risks. When I have data, I can confidently say yes to the zany ideas that come from my team, because I can watch the idea’s success (or failure) in real time. If I see that things aren’t working I can change the strategy within minutes. On the flip side, if an initiative takes off, I can allocate more resources to it and mirror that campaign for other targets and continue testing.

2. Marketing success leads to overall success.

Marketing plays a huge role in the success of any company. Consider that potential customers must first be familiar with your brand, and leads must be generated before a sale can be closed. To ensure these initiatives operate like a well-oiled machine, marketers should use every piece of information at their fingertips. By leveraging the data behind every tactic, marketers can forget “what works and what doesn’t” and start living by “what works and what works better.”

I’ve seen marketers increase their revenue by 20–30 percent, year-over-year, simply because they relied on data to change and improve their strategies. The best results are only possible when you have the information to optimize the work you’re doing.

3. Compensation is invariably tied to positive ROI.

Data doesn’t just help you do your job better—it helps you keep it and move up the ladder while you’re at it. Whether part of the job description or the bulk of a bonus structure, ROI is increasingly considered in compensation plans today.

Knowing your data keeps you in control in more ways than one. Without a high data IQ, marketers forfeit the ability to drive their own compensation. On the other hand, a high data IQ offers more benefits and a bigger paycheck by driving the type of success that can ultimately boost your compensation.

Sure, Don Draper’s career of high-stakes creativity and three-martini lunches sounds intriguing. But I would never trade my data for a 1960’s pencil skirt and everything that goes with it. I don’t need screenwriters to write my success. As long as I’ve got data in my hands, I’ll write it myself.

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Sugar Coating or Positive Thinking?

I can still remember my first parent-teacher conference. A teacher sweetly told me my oldest son was “just so curious.” I went home thinking he was exceptionally intelligent, only to realize that meant he was into everything – especially things he shouldn’t be. Then, my second son was described as “having a tendency to communicate with his body.” Apparently he was pushing other children to get to his favorite toys. By the time my third son was described as “adept at expressing himself,” I understood what this meant – he screams his head off until he gets what he wants.

Are such positive descriptions helpful or harmful? In my experience, sugarcoating the truth may set a pleasant tone for subsequent conversations, but it can also take much longer to understand what’s really going on.

This tendency to make personal circumstances appear more appealing often spills into the business world as well. I’m reminded of several examples from my own experience:

  • A friend of mine once described his new company as a “turn around situation.”

          In reality: To date, the company’s performance was horrific.

  • A recruiter called me about a company with “real growth opportunity.”

          In reality: This was a small startup with no real market share.

  • A friend in the retail industry mentioned her company sales had “way outperformed the market.”

          In reality: Her company’s sales were significantly down from last year.

In some ways, I applaud these leaders for choosing to see what their companies could become. If they don’t believe in the potential, who will?

TALKING WITH FLOWERS

Yet, sometimes we sugarcoat to the point of misrepresentation, confusion or even annoyance. I worked at SAP for six years, where a German colleague complained at length about how Americans constantly talk with “flowers” – something was lost in translation, but I understood what he meant. He was frustrated at our tendency to hide the negative and be overly upbeat.

Personally, I’ve found that sugarcoating conversations ultimately does more harm than good. Throughout my career, I’ve unfortunately had to terminate several underperforming employees during my time in leadership positions. One thing was a constant across the board: These conversations only went smoothly when the employee wasn’t caught by surprise.

I spoke with these employees many times leading up to that point, in clear terms, about their poor performance. When the situation did escalate to termination, at least the employee saw it coming. In any situation, these discussions should be straightforward but not demoralizing, as the goal isn’t to demotivate employees who have potential to succeed. Most employees, if dealt with honestly, will improve their results or find a new position.

SUGARCOATING DOESN’T EQUAL INSPIRATION

Ultimately, part of being a leader means helping people see the bigger picture in order to turn that vision into a reality. But sugarcoating doesn’t equal inspiration, and overly emphasizing the positive doesn’t make the negative disappear – in fact, you’re bound to sabotage the necessary solutions. In this way, a misleading parent-teacher conference isn’t much different than business conversations composed of unclear, partial or distorted information.

Striking the right balance requires a concerted effort to be candid without being demotivating, critical without being offensive, and optimistic without being ambiguous. Leaders who focus on developing a sincere, confident and constructive demeanor will be able to truly motivate the people around them in a way that helps garner individual, as well as collective, success.

ARE YOU STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE BETWEEN OPTIMISTIC AND AMBIGUOUS?

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Four Things I’ve Learned While Trying to Have It All

A colleague recently asked me, “How do you do it all? How do you have three young children and a demanding career?” My flippant answer: “I’ve learned to embrace imperfection.”

Having spent more than 20 years at companies like Oracle, SAP and now Domo, I’ve come to understand that a working mom, especially one with a demanding job, cannot expect perfection in every aspect of her life. It is a constant balancing act, which often results in feeling like something is getting the short end of the stick.

This realization became clear to me when many of my “Type A” friends started dropping out of the workforce when they had children. These women had the best career potential based on their track record, but they were not willing to engage in activity (motherhood or a job) to which they could not give everything.

While the concept of “having it all” may not be realistic, I’ve realized a few things about myself from trying to balance a high-energy family and career.

1. While it’s not true for everyone, I’m a better mother as a working mom than I would be if I stayed home. Because I have fewer hours in the day to spend with my children, they get more “quality time” with me. My children get 100 percent of my attention during those precious hours at the end of the day, after work and before bedtime. I don’t try to multitask, answer emails or do household chores. Instead, my boys have my full attention and I tend to have more patience and better interactions with them during this time.

2. My kids are learning valuable skills. It’s my nature to overanalyze things, but with more demands on my attention, I don’t have the time to obsess or hover over my children’s every issue. I’ve been getting pretty sharp at detecting when I am really needed to step in and when my kids can and should work things out themselves. A friend of mine talked about growing up a “latch key kid” and how it made her independent, resilient and ambitious. She worries her kids will not build these traits because, as a stay at home mom, she tends to do almost everything for them.

3. I have an equitable and happy marriage. No doubt my husband would love more attention (and meals) from me. But, I know we have a better relationship because we understand the “work stress” the other is facing. We also agree on what’s important. A spotless home? Nope. Focused time with each other and the kids? Absolutely. We have an equitable relationship because we are both working hard to contribute financially to our family’s well-being. It’s a true, equal partnership.

4. I’ve improved my leadership skills. Limited time forces me to focus on high-priority initiatives. Whether at home or at work, I don’t spend time on tasks that aren’t important or don’t move the needle. What’s more, I’ve become quite skilled at saying “no” to meetings or social invitations that don’t mean that much to my higher goals.

Every one of us can try to “have it all” in our own way but we don’t have to achieve high-marks in everything. By learning to balance my personal and professional goals, I’ve found incredible satisfaction in pursuing what’s really important to me in life. To me, this is what having it all is all about—imperfections and all.

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Leadership Does Not Always Mean Being First

I recently starting road biking again.  For the past 6 months I have biked with many different groups:  a ladies group on Sunday mornings, a group of strangers biking through France, etc.  It has been an interesting lesson in leadership to watch how different individuals “lead” a bike ride.  There are those that think they always need to be first to lead the group…. But we lose people at turns, and can’t evaluate how the group is doing.  The best leaders stop and wait for the group at key junctures and occasionally ride with bikers in the middle and the back of the pack to evaluate if the group needs a break or to slow the pace.

I realized it is similar in a business setting.

While I need to set a direction for my team to drive everyone forward, I would be a terrible manager if I only led from the front. I try to share team members responsibilities and understand the day to day challenges they are facing, allowing me to assess strengths and weaknesses of individual members.  This is invaluable insight as I assign out responsibilities and mentor folks.  We are much more successful at accomplishing goals because I “lead” the team by occasionally working alongside them.

A similar philosophy exists with competition.  I work at Domo, an enterprise software company.  We are in a very competitive space.  And our product is light years ahead of the competition.  As a marketer, I could not wait to trumpet our product virtues in the marketplace.  But, our CEO wisely decided to keep the product under wraps for the time being.  At first, I thought: “how can we lead with out being out front?”  But, it has been a fun challenge to create buzz while in “stealth mode”.  And, I actually think it has been an asset at times in our sales cycle.  We “nurture” leads along with thought leadership materials – only when they are ready to have a real conversation about a solution do we show the Domo product.  Domo is “leading” the marketplace in many ways with out being out front in a traditional sense.

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The “E” Factor

I come from humble beginnings.  My grandparents owned and operated a carnival.  That’s right, I come from a long line of Carnie Folk.  My father was the first person in his family to go to college.  I grew up comfortably middle class, but the motivation to work harder, want more, and always reach for the stars was ingrained in my sisters and me.

While I want to give my children every opportunity, how do I balance that with ensuring they have a strong work ethic and motivation to excel?

I recently have been exposed to more young adults entering the workforce:  my nephews, my friends’ children, and the entry-level folks I’ve worked with.  It’s a different generation.  I’ve seen a lot of the “E” factor.  “E” for entitlement.  Interns that don’t ask for time off, they just take it.  Employees that ask for a raise before they have earned it.  Team members that don’t come prepared to meetings, not realizing every opportunity is a chance to impress their management chain.  College kids that don’t want a summer internship that will build their resume – they would rather sleep late and hang with their friends.

Maybe I have become an old curmudgeon that believes everyone should walk the 2 miles, barefoot, in the snow, to work…. like I did.

How do you foster ambition and work ethic in a young person while still giving them every opportunity?  And building their self-confidence?

Should I enroll my sons in competitive sports where there is always a winner and a loser?  Should I only praise them for achievements that are truly stellar?

What about junior team members?  How do you motivate them to want more?  How do you teach them that going the extra mile and always brining your “A” game will pay off?

I don’t have the answers to these questions.  But I do think it is going to be interesting to watch this next generation as they grow to be our business leaders.

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Are There Lessons We Can Learn From the Disney Princesses?

I have three sons.  No daughters.  I have been known to occasionally throw myself a big pity party for only having sons. I am never going to get to take a daughter prom dress shopping, or help her plan her wedding, etc.  But then I am reminded that having a girl could mean a house full of Disney Princess paraphernalia.  As a bit of a tomboy, I shudder, and realize I am grateful for my boys and their matchbox cars.

Other than Barbie, Disney quite possibly has had some of the worst impact on the female image.  For starters, most Princesses are typically saved by a man.  They teach us to expect “happily ever after”…. I married my Prince Charming but had no idea happily ever after would include fighting over who empties the dishwasher.  And don’t even get me started on body image….  But I recent tried to give the Princesses the benefit of the doubt and there might be a thing or two we can learn from them and apply in the business world.

Cinderella.  Act like you are.  Cinderella was a lowly maid in rags. But she wanted to be a Princess.  So she acted like one until people saw her as one.  She wore her ball gown and tiara, danced at the ball, and flirted with the Prince.  And she became a Princess.  Do the same at work.  If you are a Manager and want to be a Director, start to act like a Director.  If you are an individual contributor and want to manage people, start to mentor people and eventually people will see you as someone that would be good at managing a team.  I have done this successfully many times in my career.

Snow White.  Embrace diversity in your team.  Snow White had seven dwarves with unique skill sets supporting her (they were even named for their key contribution).  She seemed to love them even more for their uniqueness.   It is the same in the business community.  You often need diverse skills to achieve an ambitious goal.  Diversity also ensures the best idea will be evaluated.  If you have a group of homogeneous individuals, “group think” could keep you from innovation.

Merida from Brave.  Play to your strengths.  Merida did not like or excel in typical “princess like” activities (dressing up, acting like a lady, etc.), but she was exceptional at archery, horseback riding and climbing cliffs.  Throughout the movie Merida used her “non princess” strengths to resolve situations successfully.  We should all recognize what we are good at and not only nurture it, but find situations we can leverage it.  I happen to be very analytical.  Traditionally, marketing leaders have been strong in creativity, not necessarily analytical thinking.  But I have used this skill set to be a data driven marketer and it has been invaluable.  My management chain has applauded my focus on ROI.

I don’t believe we should emulate the Disney Princesses in general.  For example, I am still waiting for the Disney Princess that saves the Prince.  But, I do think there are some nuggets of wisdom in a few of their approaches.

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