Turner’s Natasha Hritzuk on Using Consumer Data to Improve Content and Ad Experiences

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Natasha Hritzuk, Vice President of Consumer Innovation Research at Turner has deep roots in market research, analyzing consumer motivations and attitudes. Her work experience includes stints at research vendors before moving over to the brand side at General Mills U.K. and later at Microsoft. Now at Turner, Hritzuk’s research work began in support of Ignite and recently expanded to include, as she explained, “more of a pure consumer insights role that sits across the business,” with the intent to “bring a consumer perspective to the media industry.” 

Hritzuk recently completed a study that focuses on building a consumer culture of data sharing by delivering explicit benefits around improved content and ad experiences, the results of which she’ll share at the ARF ConsumerxScience Conference in New York on Wednesday, March 28.  I recently sat down with her to dive into the findings.

Charlene Weisler:  What did you want to accomplish from this study?

Natasha Hritzuk:  Initially, I came at this research from a very philosophical perspective.  Data is currently thought of in the broader corporate sector as a corporate asset rather than a consumer asset. As someone representing the voice of the consumer, this is overtly one-sided.

Certainly corporations can derive benefits from data, but it’s actually a consumer asset.  As individuals, we produce data footprints that companies need, acquire and use, but often without our explicit consent or without clear articulated benefits.  Given recent events, we can’t ignore that a correction or re-balancing could occur, as consumers come to the realization that companies are selling and making money from their data, and they’re not entirely clear on what they’re receiving in return.  I think data will become recognized more as a currency, which means that we as media companies need to be very clear about what our policies are around data acquisition.  We also need to be clear and transparent about what we are explicitly providing back to consumers in exchange for their data.

Weisler:  How close do you think we are to that consumer tipping point?

Hritzuk:  I think we are in a position where consumers are aware, and becoming less complacent. Instead of assuming that the status quo will be complacency, my recommendation is that it’s better to be on the forefront of developing transparent, consumer centric data policies rather than being reactive when it becomes an imperative to act.

Weisler:  What were the major takeaways of the study and were there any surprises?

Hritzuk:  What was particularly surprising to me is how willing people are to share most data that is vital to the media industry.  In fact, consumers are willing to share roughly 17 of the 23 different data types we listed.  This includes data around show and genre preference, what is watched and when, and even mood.  The data consumers are more reticent to share is generally more sensitive and personal -- fingerprints, financial information, calendars and appointments, facial scans.

Why are people so willing to share most data types?  A lot of it is because of habituation. The more consumers regularly share data, and at least implicitly see a benefit, the more willing they are to share in the future. Years ago, we might have been worried about typing our credit card information into a digital retail site. Today, we do it without a question. Why? Because the benefit is that sharing this data streamlines the purchase process. There is an implicit benefit, so we now share without thinking. 

Sharing your location used to be really touchy territory.  Now we share fairly regularly and reflexively because companies like Uber have habituated us.  I need to share my location so a driver can reach me; the benefit of providing location data to Uber is clear.  

I think we can all agree that consumers won’t remain passive and complacent about data sharing.  It just doesn’t jibe with the current culture of consumer awareness and activism -- particularly with younger generations.  We need to shift from habituating to empowering consumers to share their data with a clear understanding of the benefits they’re receiving in return.  By being transparent with consumers that the data they are providing delivers a very clear set of benefits that are valued, both companies and consumers win.

Weisler:  We might be unwittingly sharing data like loyalty cards where all of a sudden it is being sold somewhere else.

Hritzuk: That is definitely part of this broader consumer/data discussion.  The evolution of data sharing is fascinating.  For a long time, many people weren’t aware that data was an active currency in the corporate world.  Now they are certainly aware of it.

Consumers are even more acutely aware of their data being used when the outcome is a negative experience.  Consumers regularly complain about irrelevant recommendations or “ads that stalk you.”  In these instances, which are far too common, consumers know that their search and purchase data has been tracked, but what they get back is irrelevant or, even worse, irritating.  For example, say I bought a pair of shoes, and I continue to see a targeted ad for those shoes over the next six months.  Consumers increasingly view these experiences as a misuse of data -- about as far away from a benefit as you can get.

This is an opportunity for media companies to be more proactive about asking consumers to share data and deliver an explicit, valued benefit as a result.  Only a conscious effort to provide explicit and meaningful benefits in exchange for data will lead to a true data sharing economy.  And, in many cases, the benefits consumers value are organic to what media companies are already offering: content on demand, recommendations, content playlists.  So, we’re moving into low hanging fruit territory in terms of what companies need to do to live up to their end of the bargain. 

Weisler:  Looking forward, what do you see as the most critical data issues three years from now?

Hritzuk:  Companies need to reflect on their philosophy regarding data transparency and the relationship they want to cultivate with consumers and data.  Trust and transparency are important as a proactive measure.  Opt-in terms and conditions written in language that is consumer friendly is a basic starting point.  Making clear what the terms and conditions are is also key -- why data is needed and what benefits will be accruing back to the consumer.  And communication back to the consumer celebrating how data has improved consumer products and services is basic, but incredibly meaningful.  You provided us with "X" so we could give you "Y."  If we as media companies can provide a better consumer product because of the data that consumers share, everybody benefits.

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