Andy Hart
Posted on 4/6/2014

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll know there’s a new currency in circulation. It’s invisible, ‘virtual’. Brought to life by the awesome power of technology, you can’t roll it up in your fingers, slip it into your back pocket or do magic tricks with it. It’s also controversial; a subject of intense debate and scrutiny from governments, industries and societies.   And it’s highly sought after; people across the globe are rushing to mine it. Its value fluctuates, but its appeal is enduring.

No, it’s not Bitcoin. It’s your data.

Data is arguably the most evenly distributed currency in the world. After all, every single one of us has a stockpile of the stuff. Each piece of data has its own value – like the different notes and coins in your wallet – and that value depends on how much a company is willing to pay for it. There’s the keyword; pay. Yes, our data is just that; our data.  It’s ours to barter with as we see fit. Despite this, the majority of us aren’t using it to buy things; experiences, entertainment, a laugh, a smile.

There are two reasons why.

Firstly, some organisations aren’t yet playing by the rules. They don’t yet understand that the brand-consumer interaction is a value exchange. It is a two way street, not one way; a piece of data in exchange for an experience, for a better service, for a useful recommendation that improves your day, week, month, life. Beautiful, contextually relevant, engaging brand interactions are worth their weight in, well, data.  Advertisers need to step up.

Secondly, up to now, consumers have been unaware of the power of their data. Their default attitude is a defensive one; a piece of data is a piece of myself and I’m not giving it away. Quite right too. Remember, our data is our data. However, it’s a bit like putting a roll of fifties under your mattress and saving it for a rainy day. It might make you feel safe and in control, but ultimately, what use is currency unless you spend it?

There is evidence that attitudes are shifting. According to Microsoft’s recent Digital Trends Study into over 8,500 consumers worldwide, 45 per cent would sell all of their digital data to the right brand at the right price. Staggeringly, that’s almost half. What’s more, 59 per cent are willing to buy from a brand if the brand rewards them for sharing their digital data. In other words, consumers are willing to put their data on the table if, as Robert De Niro might say, brands make them an offer they can’t refuse.

There is an extra layer of complexity. If data is a currency with value, then brands can’t just hoover it up in secret. You can’t open up a customer’s wallet while he’s browsing the shelves of your store. Similarly, you can’t collect information without first offering, and secondly providing a service. It must be an open, transparent value exchange.  That’s why we switched ‘Do Not Track’ on as default in Internet Explorer. It wasn’t popular, but it was right.

On April 9th at Gulltaggen in Oslo, Norway this week, I’ll be talking about these two emerging trends – ‘Value Me’ and ‘The Right to Anonymity’ – that deal with the challenging issue of data as a currency. I’ll also delve into three other exciting trends that I believe will affect the future digital landscape for brands – Enhancing the Real; Creator Culture and IntelligentlyOn. If you’re planning to attend the event, then reach out to me on Twitter.  If you can’t be there in person, then make sure you check out our Digital Trends Study conducted with IPG Mediabrands and The Future Laboratory.


Andy Hart, VP, Europe, Microsoft Advertising

Follow us on Twitter @MSAdvertising and @MSAdvertisingUK | Find us on Facebook and YouTube