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While many know Antoine Saint-Exupery as the author of The Little Prince, he was also a pioneering aviator and award-winning author of other books—books that included insights gained from his adventurous work as an international pilot in the early days of aviation.
One of those insights, not uttered by a prince or fox, was this:
“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Terre des Hommes, translated as Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.)
Although Saint-Exupery’s statement on perfection pertained to airplane design, it’s also instructive for those seeking to meet reasonable customer expectations, reduce regulatory and brand risk, and market more effectively—all of which can be done by eliminating unnecessary personal data from marketing efforts.
Indeed, Saint-Exupery’s maxim is echoed in the data minimization privacy principle expressed in Article 5 of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which requires that personal data “…be adequate, relevant, and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed.”
Put another way, marketers should strive not to collect, use, or forward to their vendors for marketing activity any more personal data than is relevant for and needed to achieve legitimate marketing purposes.
For example, if a company offering an online budgeting service doesn’t need to know an individual’s income or mailing address to provide the service, the company shouldn’t ask for that information, let alone buy it from a third-party vendor or forward it to third-party vendors.
Unfortunately, many brands are still acquiring more personal data than their marketing departments know what to do with. The more data the better, they figure. And so data lakes full of personal demographic and psychographic data collected from third parties with questionable accuracy are still considered an asset by some. The data gatherers figure they’ll eventually be able to use the data in their marketing efforts.
But while the cost of storing this data may be going down, compliance costs related to it are climbing in the wake of new privacy laws like the GDPR and California Consumer Privacy Act (which will take effect January 1, 2020).
For example, the CCPA confers on each California resident the right to know:
:: What personal information a business in scope has collected about them
:: The source of that information
:: What it’s being used for
:: Whether it’s being disclosed or sold and, if so, to whom
The difficulty and cost of complying with such requests grow as the personal data sources, amounts of personal data processed, and number of onward transferees grow. Not to mention that the greater the amount of personal data on hand, the greater the potential blast radius and reputational damage from a data breach.
Businesses can reduce their privacy compliance risk by removing unnecessary personal data from data sets sent onward to their email fulfillment providers and other third-party vendors used for marketing purposes.
In addition to reducing risk, the practice of minimizing the collection and further processing of personal data to what is necessary and relevant to legitimate marketing purposes is better aligned with reasonable customer expectations and may well lead to more efficient marketing and better marketing results.
As Mary Meeker recently indicated in her Internet Trends 2019 presentation, a marketing strategy focused on audience messaging that is customized, personalized and relevant is more effective. Ms. Meeker also observed that winning businesses are building or engaged with data plumbing tools to gain insights to improve customer experiences.
Her observation calls into question the value of collecting troves of third-party data, much of it acquired based on questionable assumptions about individual preferences based on related demographic and psychographic data.
Instead, a more restricted and relevant set of personal data should be considered. What better way to build valuable customer insights and attract customers than to plumb and make sense of their direct interactions with a brand through website and mobile channels as well as brick-and-mortar store visits?
(And who knows…data minimization may even be appreciated on B 612.)