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The risk and reward of data collection

Today, the most valuable commodity in the world is data. From it, business-boosting, sales-driving, competition-smashing insight can be extracted. 

However, to get your hands on the precious stuff, you have to go digging on private property, and people don’t take too kindly to nosy trespassers, especially at a time when justifiably paranoid consumers are constantly asking, “are social networks, sites and devices listening to me?”

This article explains how to effectively collect and use customer data responsibly, and avoid getting shot on sight (metaphorically speaking, of course).


picture of data records

What data can you collect?

There are millions of possible data points to extract from myriads of sources. Data comes in all forms, but the more relevant it is to your business objectives, the more valuable it is. Focusing your data gathering on the most important areas is important from the start. For example, grocery stores greatly value the data points that can be used to create personalised shopping experiences, and online clothing stores are interested in transaction histories to learn what to promote to individuals. Destinations want to know when audiences are looking to book, what they booked last time, and how much they spent and where while they travelled.

Common data points include:

  • Name, gender, age, DOB
  • Contact details
  • Transaction history
  • Communication between your business and your customers
  • Income details
  • Spending habits
  • Reviews and recommendations
  • Time spent online/in store


Harvester collecting crops

How can you collect data?

There are three main ways you can collect data from people: Ask for it, track it or buy it.

You can ask for data directly through things such as:

  • Orders
  • Surveys
  • Competitions
  • Reviews 

The biggest upside to asking for data is that you have consent from your customers. Generally speaking, this transparency reduces the chances of anyone calling foul play. However, asking for data can cause issues when you ask for too much of it—especially in one go. 

Think about it, how many times have you closed a browser window simply because someone was asking too many time-consuming/probing/annoying questions?

Alternatively, you can track data indirectly through:

  • Email tracking
  • Apps
  • Third-party trackers
  • Social media and web analytics 
  • Cookies
  • Web beacons 
  • In-store beacon technology 

Tracking data is a powerful and less intrusive way of gathering data. You can gather all sorts of customer trends and habits from which you can build an effective product and/or marketing strategy. But with it comes the risk of the creep factor—you know, like when you google something like ‘canoe sale’ and then everywhere you go you’re met with discount boating ads.

Finally, you can just buy it.

Purchasing data from data companies like CoreLogic (Australian property sector) or Nielsen (consumer and media sector) is a sure way to get high-quality data. The only downside? The pricetag.


Photo of a data advertisement

What can you do with data?

The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.
— Carly Fiorina, former executive, president, and chair of Hewlett-Packard Co.

There’s no point in collecting a whole bunch of data and not knowing how to properly turn it into something useful. There are increasingly more and more ways you can use data to better your business. 

Improve the customer experience

You collect data to gain a better understanding of customer demands and pain points. By analyzing their behaviour, as well as vast amounts of feedback in the form of reviews and surveys for example, you can modify your digital presence, goods or services to suit both the entire marketplace as well as the individual customer. 

Finetune your marketing strategy

Contextualized data can help you determine what you’re doing right and what you could be doing better, with your marketing moves. With marketing becoming increasingly personalised, it has never been more important to figure out exactly how people are engaging with and responding to your marketing campaigns, and to adjust accordingly. 

Make some extra cash

If you collect enough quality data, you can even turn it into an additional income stream. Data brokers and companies that buy and sell customer information have risen as a new industry alongside big data. 

Sellers beware! If you’re going to sell on data that you’ve gathered from customers, you need to have their permission, be it express written consent or outlined in agreed upon terms and conditions. No ifs ands or buts. 

Come up with new ideas and predict the future

Advanced analytics are getting so good now, not only can you determine what customers appreciate today, but you can predict future consumer behaviors. With a crystal ball before you, you can use data to create, incorporate or change aspects about your product or business ahead of the curve, ahead of the pack. 

Find the true voice of the customer

Sometimes what you find in traditional forms of customer feedback aren’t indicative of how they really feel about you. Data can be considered the true voice of the customer and you can gain true insight into every aspect of your business from it.


Exit sign photo

How to collect someone’s data without driving them away

Customers don’t mind personalisation, just not at the cost of their privacy. Data doesn’t just improve sales–it can also dramatically improve the customer journey. 

There are three rules to live by however, that’ll keep you out of danger and forever in your customers’ good graces. 

1. Show it, don’t say it

You may collect attributes like age, gender and family, but that doesn’t mean you should directly mention them in your marketing content. There’s nothing creepier than having a business list out everything they know about you e.g. “We’ve got a new product and you and your two sons and one daughter will love it!” 

Instead of telling people what you know about them, show them by making recommendations or identifying offers that they’ll appreciate based on what you know about them.

2. Know your audience

What some people deem friendly, others see as ‘overly personal’. Take millennials for example. They have been raised in the era of personalisation and are used to being recognised more personally by businesses. This is not true for their parents, who might find some new age tactics intrusive. Recognising these key differences will tell where and when it’s ok to get more personal and when you might need to pull back the reins or even avoid doing so entirely. 

3. Know your role

You are first and foremost a business. As tempting as it sounds, you can’t always be best buds with your customers. Unless you have actually met and spoken with someone, manufacturing a level of intimacy is a bad move. Fake intimacy is an immediate red flag for most, so instead of positioning yourself as a personal friend, settle simply for a helpful, trusted partner.

Looking for more ways to keep your customers happy and coming back for more? Look no further. (It’s kind of our specialty.)


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