Primum non nocere

Primum non nocere  – A new oath for marketers?

Recently, here in the USA, a major financial issue shook millions of households. Giant US retailer
target-2013Target admitted that personal credit card data had been fraudulently taken through their point-of-sale machines. Between November 27 and December 15, 40 million credit and debit cards may have been compromised. And other personal information was taken from 70 million customers! (Note: Target in the US is not connected with Target in Australia).

“And what”, you may ask, “does this have to do with marketers”?

For many years, marketers have been champions for the customer. Customer Focus, Customer Centricity and Customer Relationship Management have grown in importance. All have benefitted from advances in the ability to collect, analyse and manage customer data . Marketers have rightly reminded their employers that without customers there would be no business, and without data the job of creating and keeping customers would be nearly impossible.Target POS

And so we invested in data collection and management. We use that information to guide and enhance our marketing activities. In some cases we even use that data to improve the customer experience.

But have we followed the axiom Primum non Nocere, First, do no Harm? This ancient oath of unknown origins has been a tradition in many professions. Perhaps it is time for marketers to embrace it as well.

Following the data breach, Target’s reputation took a significant hit. Target has worked hard to build a strong, well-reputed brand. A brand which has engendered passionate customer loyalty. A brand that suffered with the data breach along with their customers.

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The impact on those 40 million card holders is not insignificant, despite assurances from Target that customers would not be responsible for fraudulent charges on their cards (Target even used the horrible word “inconvenience” to describe the impact on their card users). Customers now worry when offering their credit or debit cards. If they used their card at Target during the time of the breach, they should now regularly go online or call their bank to make certain that no unauthorised charges have been made. If they do find one, they must then dispute those charges and follow a process to receive a credit. Or they can choose to cancel their cards and get new ones, which is not as simple as it may seem. But without question, harm was done, both to the customers themselves and to the hard-won reputation of the business.

As marketers, we enjoy the benefits of the data we collect from our customers. Shouldn’t we be passionate advocates of the security of that data? Before we ask “what can we do with the information?” we should ask “how secure is the data?”, “what are the implications of a failure?”, “should we invest in better technology to protect the data?”. These are questions usually discussed between the business technologists, operations and finance. The unfortunate situation with Target and their 40,000,000 customers should embolden marketers to raise their voices in defence of their customers.

Before we implement new technologies and processes to gather more and more information, we should insist that first, we do no harm.