Big Data is a powerful currency. Its business value lies in the wealth of customer insights it provides which, when put to good use, can provide you with that all-important competitive edge. Companies are thus investing enormous resources in acquiring as much personal information as they can – building massive datasets that look impressive, but don’t necessarily achieve the desired results.

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Customers, however, are increasingly reluctant to hand over their details. For many, it’s to only avoid receiving unsolicited spam. The growing threat of cyber-security, however, has added a far more serious concern. In fact, the rise in computer hacking, data breaches, identity theft and online surveillance is somewhat reminiscent of George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’.

In the book, Big Brother is the symbolic leader of the totalitarian state ‘Oceania’, controlling and suppressing its inhabitants using…data. While today’s information-driven society is not an exact reflection of this story, companies need to pay better attention to how, and for what purpose, they use people’s personal details.

When data has been sourced correctly, stored securely and used ethically, it can drive incredibly effective customer communications. Here are three ways to get the most out of your Big Data – and steer clear of Big Brother.

  1. Improve the quality of your data

Recent research reports that 63.3% of UK businesses have out-of-date customer information on file. This lack of clean, correct data means that critical communications are not reaching the intended recipient – or any recipient at all. Not only is this a waste of time and money, but it can also be very damaging to your brand. Further research estimates that this reputational damage can result in a substantial 30% drop in revenue.

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In other words, it pays to keep your data clean and current. A regular data health-check will weed out all the useless information that is either incorrect or irrelevant. Once all the clutter has been removed, the value of your remaining data will soon become apparent: you’ll be able to keep a far closer eye on customer buying behaviour and spot any business opportunities (such as a gap for an up- or cross-sell) before they have a chance to shop around.

  1. Make it personal

The volume of outdated data is at odds with the growing customer demand for more personalised content. Regardless of whether you are contacting their clients for sale or general brand awareness, each email, text or social media post is a reflection on your company. Spelling a customer’s name wrong, not respecting their privacy settings or contacting them at an inopportune time when you should know better, will only weaken your relationship and diminish your brand equity.

The more you know about your customers, the more on-point and relevant your communications strategies will be. People are more sensitive than ever before to receiving reams of unsolicited content and will not take kindly to any abuse of their personal data – real or perceived. Show respect for the information you have and make sure that you use it to provide some benefit to your customers.

  1. Deliver a good customer experience

If customers feel like they aren’t getting anything in return for the data they’ve provided, they’ll unsubscribe from your mailing list or send your collateral to the junk folder. The point of Big Data is not to stalk your customers online or spam them with anything and everything the marketing team dreams up – it’s to offer them information via a convenient channel that enhances their working lives.

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Also, bear in mind that this is not a one-way transaction. Each time you contact a customer, you are initiating a conversation. If your client gets back to you with a complaint or query, make sure that you have the resources in place to respond quickly and politely.

Companies rely on data-driven technologies to win their share of a very competitive market. When data is used correctly and consistently, it can nurture stable, long-term customer relationships that are essential to achieving positive business growth. Technology may increasingly drive the world, but human values such as loyalty and trust are still worth their weight in gold.