The value
exchange of
data trust
Companies have the capacity to interact with
online customers in all kinds of meaningful ways,
forging all sorts of links, says Firas Khnaisser
t’s no secret that we’re producing
more data than ever before. And
we now have more processing
power than ever to analyse it –
and do pretty cool things with it
too. In principle, we should be in a
space where brands are interacting
with customers in all kinds of
meaningful ways and using this
data to create all kinds of wonderful
experiences. But are they?
We still get stalked across the
internet for once having a sneak
peek at a pair of socks we have no
intention of buying. And what
about random communications
from organisations that should
know a lot about us but can’t seem
to demonstrate that. Why can’t they
get it right?
Let’s take a closer look. Every
interaction leaves a data footprint –
and organisations make no secret
of the fact they want to get their
hands on as much of it as they
can. Why? Because there is a
notion that this data is valuable to
organisations. It helps run their
business, and tells them a few
things about their customers. In
some instances, this data is the only
asset they have. An asset implies
a value, so what’s the value of
data? This seems like a pretty
important question to ask.
Our current (Industrial Age)
accounting principles are very
good at valuing tangible assets
(machines, tables, chairs etc.), but
quite poor at valuing intangible
assets like data. So much
so that data has no
place on the balance
sheet. There’s an
elusive heading
of “goodwill”
that you could
slot data under,
but that’s all the
recognition it gets.
Why is this
important? If we



can’t value data, why should we
invest in it? If we tried to value it,
what would that be based on – how
clean or complete the data is? Or
why we need it, or what we intend
to achieve by using it? Or when
should we value it? Surely data
would have a different value if we’re
at the point of selling or buying a
company rather than looking at
data to become more operationally
efficient as a company?
So how can we evolve from these
Industrial Age principles?
Further evidence that we are no
longer in Kansas is that brands
are struggling to understand how
or where value is created in their
relationship with customers.
In the “good old days”, things were
nice and simple. Come up with an
idea, make it as cheaply as we can
(one design, one colour) and push
it out to customers, maybe spend
some money on advertising – and
you buy the product (or a dream)
and the company makes money.
Boom! Behold the value chain in
full swing.
Are things so straightforward
these days? Is the brand the
producer? And the customer the
consumer? Could the customer be
the producer? Whatever happened
to the value chain? Who creates the
value in the data-driven economy
and how? When you say value,
is it only transactional? Money
in return for goods and services,
nothing more?
The customer now
creates many things
that are valuable to an
organisation – which
could be content or
even data – but what

does the customer receive for their
contribution? If the customer is
creating value, why are they not
getting recognised as a co-creator/
partner and thus being rewarded?
It’s heart-warming that there
are ongoing conversations about
the Universal Basic Income
being funded based on a fee for
sharing your personal data. Even
in our darkest hour, scandals
like Cambridge Analytica are
educating customers about how
their data is used and is allowing
us all to question the value we are
receiving in return for the services
we use. We need to consider,
introspectively: does this align
with our values? How much are we
willing to compromise or not?
Brands can no longer get away
with sitting on the fence. Last
year, we witnessed a controversial
Nike campaign where we saw
the brand taking a clear political
stance. Today, other brands are
following suit. Some think this is
alienating many customers, but


equally it’s giving a voice to those
customers who share these values
and strengthening their connection
to the brand. Brands which are
unable to define who they are, what
they are about and what they stand
for, will struggle in the future.
Significantly, “values” have finally
moved to the centre stage of the
“value” conversation. GDPR was
a wonderful moment, not only for
setting a minimum acceptable
standard for the way organisations
use customer data, but also for
giving brands the opportunity to
establish long-lasting relationships
with customers, by becoming more
transparent and rebuilding trust.
GDPR is only the first step. We’re
heading into a future powered by
Artificial Intelligence, where our
lives will be run by algorithms.
When things go right, they will
go wonderfully right, and when
things go wrong, they will look like
something out of TV’s Black Mirror.
What that means in real terms is
that if we are incorrectly profiled by
an algorithm, we could lose access
to products, services and at times
even our freedom. It becomes ever
more important to think about our
values as individuals, organisations
and societies to ensure we’re