My friendly (Big) Brother

January 3, 2014

By: Nick Andrews

As a Brit, I’m not all that enamoured of conspiracy theories. Raised on a seemingly endless stream of government mishaps, as a nation I think we believe more in ‘cock up’ than conspiracy, unable to credit any government department with the ability to pull off an “Enemy of the State”-esque, uber plan. This is probably why we have been less outraged about news that the NSA or GCHQ have been monitoring us. Yes, they can read our emails but, let’s face it, they’ll never get their act together enough actually to threaten anyone with this data.

I mention this having just read a survey (conducted by Adobe in June of this year) that reports that 82% of global consumers believe that companies collect too much consumer information. We freely and happily give away information all the time, of course. Sometimes this is deliberate – our address, date of birth, phone number, credit card details – and sometimes unconsciously – hobbies, interests, preferences, history, links, friends.

The tide, therefore, may be turning. As all of us know, there, is a fine line between friendly and creepy and many companies, diving happily into the sea of Big Data, are in danger of crossing it. They understand the need to build authentic relationships. They understand the need to use data to mine the preferences, wants, needs and dreams of their consumers. They are prepared to bring value and contribute to the conversation. These are all good things. But sometimes, an overwhelming desire to be friendly, coupled with access to personal information, can be a bit too much. (“Hi. I know you like flowers. You bought a book on flowers last week. Look, I like flowers too. I have all this neat flower stuff. Let’s talk about all of our shared flower interests. NOW!”).

Our challenge, going forward, will be to persuade companies to add restraint to their communications toolbox. This will mean creating, not filling, spaces, and allowing consumers to come to them, at their own pace. This will be frustrating in a results-driven, ever faster world, but will be, in the true sense of the word, attractive. Friendship is and should be hard won, a function of trust, not mimicry. We had best remember this.

Nick Andrews is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for EMEA. You can reach him at