What’s lurking in the data shadow?

Businesses undergoing digital transformation need to make daily decisions on the data shadows and digital footprints of customers, writes Sara Berry.


If you were born a hundred years ago, all that would exist to record your existence would be a birth, marriage (if you got married) and death certificate.

Fast forward to today and things could not be more different. In one very ordinary day, by swiping your credit card at the petrol station, handing over one of your many loyalty cards at your favourite clothes shop and emailing from your mobile your existence is mapped, tracked and recorded.

Before lunch, you would have generated a vast amount of data accessible to the government and organisations. All these traces of information that you leave behind through your everyday activities are known as your data shadow or digital footprint.

As a long-time professional marketer the implications of this ‘data shadow,’ for consumer privacy is something that is of great interest to me and my fellow professionals. As any professional marketer will agree there is a fine line between a tailored customer experience through data collection and privacy compromise.

The discipline of marketing has been dramatically transformed over the last decade and there is little doubt that this process of transformation continues at a rapid pace. New channels and touch-points have created new ways of communicating and engaging customers. While these changes have created exciting new opportunities for marketers, they have also increased the complexity of planning and executing effective communication strategies.

One of the popular discussions during this era of transformation is that of data and how it should be used to improve marketing performance and demonstrate the return on marketing investments. The digitisation of everything is yielding massive amounts of new information about customers, their needs and behaviours. In many marketing organisations, more data exists and more measurement activity is taking place than ever before.

Every day, we meet with more pressure to accurately track customer behaviour, improve ROI and measure measure measure. As this pressure increases, the use of marketing automation tools and sophisticated tracking technology creeps silently and stealthily into our world.

Of course, the discipline of customer analysis is not new – it’s just becoming more sophisticated, more cost-effective and more widely available; not just for massive corporations but for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Tracking customer behaviour which was once solely the domain of the big budget corporation with massive data warehouses and teams of analysts is now available to entry-level business.

Having worked on Australia’s largest loyalty program, FlyBuys, I can see both as a consumer and a marketer that this customer relationship loyalty programme is a pretty useful marketing tool, rewarding for both the customer and the companies involved.

Coles personalise their special offers to me the consumer based on my shopping behaviour and habits, ‘my data shadow’ and reward me with discounts and cash discounts from my shopping bill for being loyal to them – it’s a win-win situation.

I know they comply with strict privacy policy. Sure they use my personal information for marketing purposes, but ultimately I sign up for it, I chose to show my card and they have proven to me over a 20 year period that they are able to manage my data responsibly and ethically and in a mutually beneficial manner.

Having specialised in developing customer focused strategies for most of my career, I am excited by the prospect that finally, customer relationship management programmes like FlyBuys are now within the grasp of SMEs.

Technological innovation and cloud technology is enabling this shift, however my enthusiasm in implementing these programmes for my clients is dampened by the fact that this same ‘all enabling technology,’ also threatens to impinge on our customers privacy if managed incorrectly.

Having worked in marketing since the early 90s, I have been segmenting and psycho-analysing customers for a long time – extracting, data-mining and profiling customers in order to ‘outdo the competition’ is a powerful marketing strategy. But as marketing professionals we were all driven by strict ethical conduct.

Whilst privacy policies directed us, ultimately we understood that we could not breach the confidence of our customer. Our aim was to build and strengthen relationships and this was paramount to everything.

As John Hegarty writes in his book Hegarty on Advertising:

At the core of the existence of brands is trust and the history of their development is based upon it. As the consumer society grew and people were no longer buying from their local community, but strangers instead, trust – knowing that what they were selling was safe, efficient and reliable was how the brand developed.


As we set about digitally transforming our businesses, we need to make decisions on the data shadows and digital footprints of our customers on a daily basis. Every day we need to turn our attention to the relationship between technology and customer behaviour and work to thoughtfully invest in technology to improve the customer experience.

As early(ish) adopters, we need to make sure that throughout this transformative period that we develop and increase our digital intelligence. As a society, we control our own destiny through the choices we make today. We need to be savvy marketers and make the most of all of the opportunities presented by the digital economy, but we also need to be able to interrogate this life changing medium, so that it delivers what we as a society want.

As a long time marketer, I am excited by the opportunities that the digital economy offers for small and medium size business to really deliver a seamless experience for their customers. Digital technology provides a wealth of opportunity for those willing to change their business to take advantage of it, but a digital strategy or a manifesto is a probably a good place to start.

We are still at the foot of a steep mountain, staring up, and for those of us who are planning on making the trek, digital and social literacy are must-have skills. But where to begin, when we are already so technology obsessed. We have the power to optimise our digital lives, and our boundless enthusiasm should not mean that we abandon our well honed critical thinking skills.

Perhaps we could consider developing the corporate social responsibility framework to include the impacts of digital on the people and planet. Maybe our businesses could include some sort of digital mission, covering off aspects of trust, privacy, security, and digital intelligence.

I’m not sure, would a ‘digital mission’ stifle collaboration, innovation and creativity or enhance it. What do you think? Are you preparing your business for a ‘thoughtful’ digital transformation right now? Do you have a digital manifesto or mission? Would love to hear your feedback.


Sara Berry (@sara__berryhas worked in the communications industry since the early 90s. A graduate of the prestigious Watford advertising course, she established Marketing Sense to help businesses achieve big budget style communication strategies at an affordable price, through the flexibility of outsourced marketing.