The Hidden Threats to Your Hard-Earned Marketing Data

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Marketing departments are quickly growing to be one of the weakest links in the security of their companies’ data. Leaders in these operations need to act now to prevent a catastrophic data breech or loss if they haven’t already done so.

Today’s marketers have unprecedented direct access to proprietary data about their marketing, company, and customers. In most ways this is a good thing–the best-run marketing operations now run responsively on data-driven decisions to achieve better ROI. The ability to immediately access and interpret data improves organizational nimbleness and enables real-time optimization of campaigns.

But it also comes with some risks. The more people who have access to data, the more opportunities there are for it to be mishandled or fall into the wrong hands. And most marketers aren’t trained information security experts who know how to properly handle that data to begin with.

Many CMOs now have more data than they know what to do with. Securing that data must be as big of a priority as finding ways to analyze and interpret it. Any kind of breach or abuse could lead to:

  • A lost competitive edge
  • A damaged brand and lost customer trust
  • Lawsuits for negligence and potential damages
  • Punishments for failure to comply with relevant regulations

So as you continue to build up your marketing analytics team and infrastructure, keep in mind that data science and collection strategies are only a part of the formula. If your marketing can’t keep your company’s and customers’ information secure, then it doesn’t deserve to be using that data.

Safeguarding from External Attacks

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External attacks on your data security are a real and meaningful threat. As Michael Dell, CEO of Dell recently said of his own business:

“The adversaries are very sophisticated. We’re talking about state-sponsored attacks, terrorism, identity-theft criminals, and activist groups. They are well funded–it’s a multibillion-dollar industry–and they are relentless. They’ve also automated the process of attacking. It’s a cat-and-mouse problem, and we have dedicated thousands of people and serious research dollars to staying ahead of it.”

Your business might not be the target of a state-sponsored hack, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t entities with malicious intent trying to get access to your data. When you accumulate consumer data, you take on the burden of responsibility to safeguard it from anyone trying to access it by any means.

This is even more important in some industries than others. For instance, anyone even remotely involved in healthcare and patient information will likely need to adhere to strict HIPPA regulations. Similar protections are in place for a variety of financial and credit-related fields.

Traditionally, responsibilities for security against external intrusion have fallen to IT. And that’s where the lion’s share of those responsibilities should remain. However, as the lines between digital and marketing have faded, CMOs can no longer afford to leave matters of data management entirely to someone else. Marketing data budgets are growing at a rapid rate, and with them will come more and more data points from myriad sources flowing through the marketing department.

A combination of close collaboration with IT as well as strategic tech, talent and policy acquisitions within the marketing department itself will be required to effectively protect your organizations from intrusions. If you’re handing large enough volumes of data, a Big Data executive search may be warranted to help manage both the analytics and security of your sensitive information.

Internal Data Security Management

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For all that you must be vigilant against malicious intrusions from external players, the biggest threat to your marketing data is within your marketing department itself. By far, the most common causes of a compromises in data security are actions by individuals within an organization, intentional or not.

Sometimes an unscrupulous person within an organization will be tempted to abuse their access to valuable corporate and customer information for their own personal gain. This is part of why it’s so important to conduct thorough background checks on everyone you bring into your organization, from employees to marketing contractors and everything in between.

But much more frequently, the largest internal data security threats come from accidental or negligent actions and oversights rather than malice. A minor mistake can leave highly sensitive information exposed purely by accident. For instance, on Christmas the popular game ecommerce platform Valve mistakenly allowed thousands of users to view the accounts and data of other individuals’ accounts; including personal information, purchase histories, and even credit card information.

Even very smart and experienced big data staffing experts occasionally make mistakes, and less-experienced marketers are even more prone to errors. Your marketing team might by quite smart, creative and effective with their data, but most of them are still just marketers–not seasoned datasmiths. They might be able to read and interpret data, but not understand the technical aspects of keeping it secure.

Close partnership with IT in all matters of data accumulation and use is a good place to start. Direct coordination with leaders in that department, or use of an intermediary like a Chief Marketing Technologist, can help bring sorely needed technical oversight and leadership quickly. A big data marketing consultant can also step in if your organization is significantly behind on security matters and have a lot of ground to make up.

In the long term, it’s critical to train your entire marketing team–especially those who directly access your extremely important and valuable data–in how to properly care for and access your proprietary information in a way that avoids any chances of it falling into the wrong hands.

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