Q&A: Salesforce’s Chris O’Hara Wants Marketers to Capitalize on the Data Revolution

datadrivenIf you want to learn about data, Chris O’Hara is the right person to ask. O’Hara, who leads global product marketing for Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s suite of data and audience products, is a big believer in the data revolution—but first, marketers need to take stock of what data they actually have.

“Some marketers think they have way more data than they actually have, and others think they don’t have a lot of data but actually do,” O’Hara said.

Before joining Salesforce, O’Hara was at Krux, the data management platform that Salesforce acquired in 2016, working on data marketing. In October, O’Hara, along with Krux alums Tom Chavez and Vivek Vaidya, released a book, “Data Driven,” which dives into how marketers should think about using data to overhaul customer engagement and experience.

Before the book’s release, Adweek talked with O’Hara about the book and about how marketers can leverage the data they have while keeping data privacy and consumer trust in mind. A portion of that conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

Adweek: A lot of marketers have talked about the importance of getting better at explaining to consumers what exactly is being collected and how exactly data is being used. Do you think it’s the responsibility of tech and advertising companies to explain that to the public?

Chris O’Hara: Marketing is better when you have the permission of consumers. Consumers are entitled to know exactly how their data is being used, and consumers are absolutely entitled to have control over their own data. As you talk about the opportunities to get more personalized with customers, you’re allowed to deliver great personalization if the customer has opted in for you to do that on their behalf. If you do that without their consent, it feels creepy and wrong, right?  It’s common sense. We’re always going to lead with the idea that trust comes first and that marketing is better with consent. Period.

You write in your book that the biggest risks of harnessing data are centered around privacy, security and trust. As concerns about data privacy grow, and as data breaches continue to occur, how does the industry best rebuild trust with the public? Where does the industry start with reestablishing trust and maintaining trust with consumers?

It’s all based on permission and an opted-in consumer. I like getting advertising messages that are relevant. When I am shopping for a car and I give Cars.com permission to introduce me to new models and send me an email every week, I appreciate it because I’ve asked for it. When I engage with certain sites on the web, like The Wall Street Journal, where I pay for content, I trust them with a certain amount of my data so they can make my reading experience better. That’s the way it should have been, always. Unfortunately, there are some companies in the space that have taken advantage of little oversight to do otherwise. But what we’ve seen in the market is that companies that are not leading with trust are not being valued as highly or perceived as more valuable than companies that do put trust at the center of their relationship with customers.

What’s the biggest misconception marketers have with data?

Something we write about in the book is that some marketers think they have way more data than they actually have, and others think they don’t have a lot of data but actually do. One of Pandora’s svps, Dave Smith, came to us and said, ‘I have one of the biggest mobile data assets in the world. Everyone who uses Pandora is logged in, so we know so much about our customers: what kind of cellphone they have, what kind of music they like, perhaps the ages of the kids in their home, when they listen.’ That’s a lot of data. Pandora probably has one of the largest data assets in the entire world. But Pandora doesn’t know when people are going to buy a car or people’s incomes, necessarily. They don’t know when you’re planning on taking a family vacation. So they turned to second- and third-party data to enrich their understanding of consumers.

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