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Today, at this very moment, we are witnessing the rise of a personal information economy. “Data fuels the economy, now.” Michael Becker, Managing Partner of mCordis and recent speaker at the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference in St. Louis, MO has a lot to say about the history of data and its future. He’s not alone. Data was an underlying yet important theme of this year’s conference, hosted by the University of Missouri, St. Louis (UMSL). Among the data-driven topics were sessions on data regulations, hacking and privacy, and data brokering, all asking relatively the same question: How will data affect marketing in the future?

Regulations and Data

On April 3, just a week before the conference took place, President Donald Trump signed a measure that repealed rules created by the FCC in the previous year to tighten regulations on ISPs, specifically what they do with your browsing data. This is not a new conversation. As other countries adopt more stringent rules on how user data is collected and used, Americans are becoming more aware of the growing market for their data. This was apparent at MDMC as conference-goers raised their hands with questions about VPNs and incognito browsing after keynote sessions.

Many of the privacy regulations in place now were not designed with the future in mind. As Mark Sableman of Thomas Coburn LLP pointed out in his session on law in the digital realm, IOT devices are subject to only basic privacy and data laws, despite sending and receiving personal, intimate information about their users. This information could include where and when their baby sleeps (baby monitors that can be viewed remotely and have geolocation capabilities) and what they are saying in the privacy of their own home (smart speakers and voice services). In his session supplement Internet Law, Twists and Turns, Sableman addresses the complicated legislation that IOT data is already subject to. Laws like the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and other state-specific hacking laws, protect users by prohibiting “…accessing of computer and network data without authorization or beyond the scope of authorization…” but this leaves many ambiguities. Should data be thoroughly encrypted from device-to-device or do users prefer to take their chances and litigate if something breaches?

Users and Data

During his session, Marketing’s Metamorphosis: Thriving in The Era of The Connected Individual, Becker took his audience on a journey through time. Technology has come a long way from the Age of Manufacturing. We are now in what Becker described as the “Third Wave of Computing”. The Internet of Things is growing at an astronomical rate with 75 billion to 500 billion connected devices expected to be employed by 2025. There is already a growing marketing that manages the exchange of data. Cities are smarter because of data, but they are also less private. Security measures utilizing data can pinpoint the exact locations of gunshots being fired and can help first responders know how many weapons were fired and how many shooters are active. But, the technology used to collect this data could be used for more invasive reasons.

Marketers and Data

On the other side of the debate, marketers are scrambling to find ways to use this precious data. How can data be collected and used now and in the future? How can marketers integrate their data to create actionable insights? How will consumers control the use of their personal information, and how do marketers then collect that information? These questions floated around the conference hall as speaker after speaker shared their own stories and insights into what many see as the new “Data Economy”.

The new focus, said Becker, is “...marketing to the profile.” The user is the point of sale. The user is aware of the data exchange. The user wants to be personally connected to their digital exchanges. Marketers are adjusting quickly, and will have to continually adjust as this becomes the new norm.

Products and Data

James Whittaker, Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft (yes, that is his real title, and he deserves it), introduced to the audience a solid argument for creation without intent. “Stop waiting for intent to come to you. Close the gap between intent and resolution.” Whittaker pointed out to the massive crowd gathered to watch the keynote speakers that we are all buyers and sellers. The network should be peer-to-peer and we are very similar to most of the audiences we are marketing to.

** Explicit Language is used during this presentation **

With the constant gathering of data, resolutions can now create intent. Using RunPee, an app that tells you when to go to the bathroom during a movie, he pointed out that sometimes the data creates an intent that the user didn’t know they had. The app builders had the data on the slowest times during the movie, built an app around this idea, and then expanded the usefulness of the app by helping app users understand their own bathroom habits in general.

Whittaker also pointed out that connected devices are now being designed to be entirely self-sufficient in their markets. “Any machine can play. They observe, collect data, and improve.” He pointed out that his own hot tub can keep inventory on it’s own water treatment supplies, watches the market to understand when supplies are the least expensive, and orders them on behalf of its owner online.

MDMC and Data

Conference goers were exposed to some of marketing’s finest speakers, including leaders from Forrester Research, IBM, Microsoft, Buzzfeed, and Facebook. A few stood out in this year’s lineup, but most were prepared for an audience of students and educators, ready to learn. The sessions were filled with real data points and statistics that were more than supportive - they were useful.

Many attendees walked away feeling overwhelmed, while others felt armed with a better understanding of the marketing world outside of their bubble. After hearing from so many experienced professionals from so many disciplines within the area of marketing, it is clear that the future of data could be more than what we expect but some of us are slightly more capable of navigating the future after having attended this conference.

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