Customer data security is a marketing problem, too

Data breaches and leaks have climbed to an all-time high over the past two years. What was once seen as the unfortunate cost of transitioning to the digital age has become a global epidemic. As with any crisis, the time for fretting is long past. It’s time for action.

And it’s not just the IT team that needs to take action. Marketers should get involved in protecting customer data, as well.

Many of the vulnerabilities that threaten customer data emanate from marketing-related third-party technologies on companies’ websites: trackers, tags, adtech, social media technologies, and others. These tools are essential for marketers looking to create seamless, cohesive marketing journeys for customers. However, data breaches should not be an accepted cost of doing business in a customer-centric world. They are not inevitable.

Marketing executives can take, and must, take steps to help their company do more to prevent the exposure of their customer data.

Over the next decade, comprehensive data protection systems and protocols will evolve from recommended best practices to absolute table stakes. In the interim, these measures will represent the ultimate competitive differentiator for the most digitally savvy organizations.

A new proving ground

Better security is the natural response to newly recognized threats. Take the banking system, for example. In the Old West, if a bank location was robbed, its depositors felt the financial pain directly. Likewise, in the 1930s, when thousands of banks failed, countless families lost their life savings. Such direct financial losses for bank customers are unthinkable today, thanks to not only improved physical security within banks, but also entities such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). These effective protections arose as a result of consumer calls for improvement, action on behalf of legislators, and recognition among business leaders that greater security was required.

In the not-too-distant future, consumers will expect similar protections for the data that they entrust to companies. Such protections must include preventive measures to ensure the data is not leaked or stolen, as well as assurances that consumers are personally safe from harm in the rare instance that a marketing data breach does happen. As with the banking system nearly a century ago, the drive toward this future is currently evident on three fronts:

Consumer expectations: Following numerous high-profile data breaches in recent years, consumers have grown frustrated—not just with hackers and other bad actors, but with the companies that allow themselves to be breached in the first place. In fact, a recent study by RSA Security found that more than half (57%) of consumers place more blame on companies than the hackers themselves. Increasingly, when consumers entrust their data to companies, they expect it to be handled with care.

Regulatory action: Of course, there’s little the average consumer can do to protect his or her own data, shy of avoiding the modern digital world altogether. Thus, regulators are stepping in on their behalf. We’ve seen this intervention manifest in Europe’s GDPR as well as the forthcoming California Consumer Privacy Act in the U.S. That’s just the beginning. Going forward, if marketers and their companies want the privilege of accessing consumer data, they will have to show they’re capable of managing it responsibly.

Executive recognition: Finally, while most marketing leaders are familiar with the general threat of data breaches to their organizations, few have the specific understanding of vulnerabilities related to marketing data and the steps required to appropriately safeguard it. This must change. When you add damage to consumer trust and stifled corporate innovation to the financial toll of a data breach, it becomes clear that even the strongest organizations can’t afford such losses. In the near term, it will be the marketing executives who recognize the importance of data security and privacy, and guide their enterprises accordingly, who set their companies apart from competitors.

Data security — and marketing data security, in particular — will be the next battleground on which the most digitally savvy of companies distinguish themselves from the companies that have fallen behind. The onus is on marketing executives to decide whether they’d like their companies to lead the way or be dragged into a more-secure future.

Marty Greenlow is chief executive officer of Ensighten

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