As a child the village in which I lived contained a butcher and a baker (but no candlestick maker) and like many families at the time - which sadly was some while ago - shopping and socialising happened frequently and locally. On a typical day a typical village resident, such as my mother, might go to the butchers, be greeted by name and the butcher would already know pretty much what she wanted to buy. Occasionally the butcher might even mention to the baker that my mother might be looking for a particular item and, like magic, it might even appear a couple of weeks later.
While accepting that perhaps this level of local knowledge wasn't the norm for all, it was pretty representative of customer experience at the time and demonstrates some interesting parallels with today's consumer attitudes to privacy.
Did my mother mind that the butcher knew what food she liked? Did she mind that the word got around that she was after some hard to find item? Nope.
In today's society this kind of behaviour by retailers doesn't appear to be welcomed by the consumer. We have increasingly restrictive legislation fuelled by a consumer need to keep knowledge private - so what's the difference?
It’s simple. My mother knew the butcher, she interacted with him often, understood how he would use the knowledge he knew about her, knew where he lived and relied on his discretion - in other words she trusted him. In fact all of that rationalisation would have happened without her even thinking about it. It was an accepted part of village life.
How about the butcher? From his perspective he knew that my mother was important - she came in each week and bought from him - perhaps not a huge amount, but nonetheless she was a repeat customer and valued as such and he knew that a breach of trust would probably lose him not just one customer, but perhaps quite a few amongst the other locals that my mother would have talked to.
But now the world has changed. Or has it?
Since then our village has grown. No longer are we limited to choosing from local small suppliers, the internet has arrived and has allowed greater choice, has reduced prices and has given most of us access a huge local shop - many good things indeed. But we have lost much along the way - personal service, being valued as a customer and trust.
So what has all this got to do with customer data? Everything.
If organisations want consumers to let them know what they really want, then they will have to develop some of the same characteristics as our old butcher; respect for the customers privacy, understanding their true lifetime value and appreciating the real dangers of a lack of discretion.
In other words building trust with consumers is a pre-requisite of establishing powerful data relationships. The more the consumer trusts an organisation with their data the more likely they are to give it. Just as importantly a failure of trust, perhaps a data breach, is likely to be far more damaging than the direct damage.
After all word travels fast in the village.