The “Say-Do Gap”: Why Marketers Can’t Simply Ask Consumers for Data

Zero-party data is all the rage. Typically, the term, as initially defined by Forrester, refers to information that a consumer willingly and actively hands over to a brand. This often takes the form of surveys, especially in the current age of privacy-adjusted marketing, when collecting consumer data at scale or buying it from the third-party market are no longer simple.

But asking consumers to relay their information in a survey is not as bullet-proof a privacy-adjusted marketing strategy as it might sound. That’s because of what consumer insights platform DISQO calls the “say-do gap”: What people say they do and what they actually do often does not line up. This forces brands to collect data on behaviors with consent — which is what DISQO aspires to enable.

I connected with Anne Hunter, DISQO’s VP of product marketing, to discuss the say-do gap and how surveys and zero-party data are playing into consumer insights these days.

How does DISQO use surveys? How do you balance surveys with observations of user behavior?

DISQO believes that asking people their opinions and understanding their feelings is really important to knowing why they do what they do. You can’t understand consumers by only looking backward at their activities. You have to understand their motivations. However, we’re all human, and being able to remember what you actually did in the past isn’t our strong suit compared to knowing how we feel in the present.

So, it’s a combination of using observed behaviors to understand what people do plus asking for opinions about why they do it. That’s what gives brands the best knowledge they can get to make great decisions about how to engage, build products for, and have relationships with consumers.

Do you view all the data you collect as zero-party data, or is it a combination of zero-party data and first-party data? Traditionally, zero-party data is actively given, whereas first-party data is passively collected. Either can involve consent.

For DISQO, zero-party data means two things: first, that the data is collected with consent and, second, that the use of the data is understood by the person providing the data. When we ask opinions of consumers, they know they’re giving the opinions and they’re being used to help brands make better decisions. DISQO also collects digital activity from consumers who voluntarily opt in, receive value, and give informed consent for that activity. So, in DISQO’s case, all the data is actually zero-party data. 

Unlike other passive data collection methods such as cookies, mobile IDs, and IP address matching, the members on DISQO’s platform actively consent for passive data collection. 

How exactly does your observation of your users’ digital activity work?

We have a direct relationship with every member from whom we’re collecting answers and behavioral data. Every person says, ‘Yes, you can collect my passive behavioral data,’ and we know they consented to it because they need to take action to consent, and we give them value in exchange for that data.

Most other passive data collection is done, and the consumer doesn’t have any understanding of the value they’re getting in exchange, nor the ability to actually have a relationship with the company that’s collecting it — which makes DISQO’s approach very different from almost any other passive data collection. It’s a truly consumer-centric approach. It gives us a much richer dataset because we get all the consumer’s digital activity, not just certain sites. We see everything because we’re collecting it at the root with the consumer. So the data’s much more comprehensive, and it’s all directly permissioned by the end user to us.

That said, not everyone wants to share their digital behavior. We’re ok with that, and the industry has to get ok with that, but when you can provide real value in exchange for providing opinions and behaviors, the insights you can discover out of that complete dataset are way bigger and more impactful for making major brand decisions. You can see your competitors. You can’t put a cookie on your competitor’s website. But if you ask the consumer if you can see all their digital behavior, you can see their behaviors with you and how they engage with your competition. Asking directly at the consumer level provides way more information. 

What value do you offer in exchange to the consumer for tracking their digital behavior? This goes beyond surveys.

Members opt in to take surveys and also share all their digital behaviors. When they do either of those things, they then get rewarded with points they can convert into value for themselves most often through things like gift cards. So, we’re not just asking, ‘Do you want to take a survey?’ DISQO is collecting those passive behaviors and surveys and can overlap them to see what people say and what they do in a single source.

What did DISQO’s report on the “say-do gap” find?

One of the biggest findings is that people know their recall about their digital activities isn’t always perfect. We found that only about half of people are highly confident in their ability to remember their online shopping over the past month. However, if you ask people how they feel today, they know that really well and can give a great answer that’s accurate. They can say how they feel about a brand. But if you ask them to remember what they’ve done, it’s harder, and they know that.

The crazy thing is that confidence in your ability to remember your activity is inversely related to the accuracy of your ability to remember your activity. People who are the most confident in their ability to remember their digital activity often showed the worst actual recall of their digital activity. So, asking people how confident they are may not be a good approach to collecting solid data about what people do online. 

The demographics of accuracy were also very surprising. For example, we saw men had a far lower accuracy of recalling their activities than women. However, men had a far higher confidence in their accuracy of recalling their activities. The same thing is true with people of high income. They are the most confident in their ability to recall their activity and the least accurate.

The most important thing is that brands need to know this. If they’re going to make decisions about what people say they do online, they need to understand the accuracy of that versus collecting activity data directly to see what people actually do.

Surveys are often considered part of zero-party data. But how do you ensure you’re maintaining consent after the data is collected? And do you collect all of people’s digital activity or allow them to opt out of some tracking?

DISQO does have certain categories of data that we don’t collect such as private financial information or engagement in adult activities. It’s not just domains. It’s also keywords, URL strings — there’s a sophisticated algorithm with an active data science team behind it that looks to remove sensitive and personal identifiable information from data collection. DISQO isn’t interested in the activities of an individual as much as the trends on more general behaviors. 

DISQO uses a meter that users have to install on their mobile device and that can be removed at any time — unlike other data collection methods such as mobile IDs or IP addresses that consumers can’t actively choose to add or remove. 

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015 and regularly consults with companies in the space on content and communications. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.