Don’t be fooled by ‘big, bad data:’ How marketing insights drive better consumer experiences

For some, data is truly a four-letter word.

How many times have we been scrolling through our social media feeds to find an ad about something we just talked about yesterday? How many jokes have we made about our phones “stalking” us, or about how our world is less Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and more Black Mirror these days?

Despite what the general public might think, “big data” isn’t made up of evil, corporate overlords in suits wringing their hands in delight as they stick it to consumers. In fact, ethically collected and curated data is something that makes our lives incrementally better on a daily basis. And there are companies striving to change the image of those responsible for tailored, more personalized marketing.

In the way “fake news” does a disservice to journalism, language such as “data broker” and “surveillance advertising” misrepresent how data teams work with clients and the output of their work. Even worse, those phrases are all used to vilify entire industries and the people who work in them. Words matter, and it’s time we talk about it to shift the narrative.

What is a marketing data service provider?

Marketing data service providers do exactly what the name implies: provide data services to marketers. These providers collect, manage, process and sell consumer data on varying scales, engaging consumers directly and accessing third-party sources including public databases, to glean insights about people.

These insights can describe huge consumer segments, as well as smaller, more specific ones. And the importance of all this isn’t insignificant. Every day, companies are collectively spending billions in advertising and production, in the hopes their products and services are resonating with the right people. This type of data helps assure this to be true.

For companies, the win is clear. Better customer data drives better efficiency. Companies know with some certainty what their customers like, meaning they don’t waste time creating products or services no one cares about. And, with better data, they can find the right people to talk to about those products and services.

And for consumers, there is also a big win. Companies don’t need to inundate us with advertising we don’t care about. We’re engaged with more customized experiences: Ads for things we actually buy. This builds value between the consumer and companies, and builds long-term customer relationships with relevant, on-going value.

Doing it the right way

Still, the concept of marketing data service providers can be scary.

If companies can speak to me at exactly the right time with exactly the right message, does that mean they’re watching me all the time? Well, not exactly.

Consumers are sending millions of signals about what they want each day. These breadcrumbs act as clues for brands to understand their customers better, and in turn help companies create efficiencies for individuals. Ever been in a food delivery app and get prompted to “order again?” Ever get a message from a website like or Amazon reminding you your dog food is low, or you probably need more hair conditioner?

These are the types of efficiencies made possible by data.

While this seems like some sort of psychic power, it’s not. Marketing service providers adhere to consumer data privacy legislation worldwide. Thanks to these laws, consumers are the ultimate powers that be for their own data.

Existing data privacy legislation, like the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act), allow consumers to know what data is collected about them and to control how their data is used. You might’ve seen new pop-ups on your phone while browsing the Internet about rejecting tracking or hiding your email. This practice allows consumers to opt-out of data collection. The CCPA and other US state privacy laws afford consumers the right to receive a report on the data processed about them and take action to opt-out of the sharing or specific uses of that data, or have the data deleted all together. Verification of the consumer making the request is used to protect against unlawful access to data. While only a limited number of US states afford privacy rights to their residents, we extend those rights to all U.S. residents.

Digital transformation drives digital information

When it comes to data, the consumer should be the one in the driver’s seat. As our digital interactions increase, this distinction is only going to solidify. Good actors in this space will need to meet the requirements of increasing legislation not only so they can operate, but so they can be good stewards to the companies and consumers they service.

Marketing data service providers are an important class all their own, separate of Big Tech. These companies are meant to drive differentiation, not monopolization, and strive to do so with a privacy-first framework using proven business practices.  Data service providers date back to the 1980s and have always operated to meet the requirements of ever-changing laws. At Epsilon, we've spent decades ethically sourcing and cultivating diverse data to provide the deepest consumer insight available. As the world evolves—and the Internet too—we will continue to rise to the challenge of serving consumers.

This article was originally published on Adweek, May 2023.