02/19/2014 05:10 EST | Updated 04/21/2014 05:59 EDT

You Want My Data? What's it Worth?

For many businesses, Big Data may have been (and probably still is) the go-to agenda item in the board-room. Understanding, measuring and gaining business intelligence from our growing plethora of digitized customer data will remain top of mind for the foreseeable future. A new Microsoft research study (conducted in nine markets with over 9,000 respondents, 1,000 in Canada) designed to help companies understand and track emerging digital behaviours revealed eight future trends (which I'll go into in future posts) but importantly revealed a new data trend is emerging which promises to have even greater implications than big data for businesses from all categories.

My data store comes at a price

People are now aware that their personal data is worth something. Having been left out of the conversation so far, consumers know that their information is already being used and is valuable to businesses. People recognize that they are due a slice of the pie for their data, and that by sharing more, they should get more in return. In our study we call this trend "Value Me."

Research tells us that as more and more targeted communication fills people's screens, consumers are becoming increasingly aware that what they do online is worth a great deal, especially to brands and marketers. We're at a critical point where consumers are considering the value of their data and seeking more ways to control where it goes.

A note of caution: when people share their personal information, they are not just interested in flat monetary returns; rather, our expectation is that the information given will greatly improve or personalize our experience. How many times have you filled out a form that asked for your date of birth, yet when your birthday comes around you get nothing? I once filled in a comprehensive pre-arrival form for a luxury hotel, they wanted to know my favourite food, music tastes and the activities I enjoyed most -- personal service at its best, right? Wrong.

To my dismay, none of the information was used to perfect my experience and the staff had seemingly no knowledge of my preferences. I tell you this to illustrate that anticipations rise when we give away information. So if businesses want to keep learning more about their customers, they will have to be clear about how the data will be used and start offering valuable rewards and improvements in service or product offerings in exchange for collecting it.

At present, no global standard of valuation has been given to data, but 32 per cent of Canadian consumers say they would be willing to sell all of their digital data collected over a six-month period, to the right company, at the right price. Reward us for our digital information and 53 per cent of us are more likely to buy from you.

When asked how much they would be willing to sell their data for, consumers naturally place a much higher value than the current market dictates ($2,100 vs. the market average of under $10).

This is going to be a sticking point that businesses and customers will have to negotiate. Not only will businesses have to manage their own big data vaults, but they will have to recognize that data they thought was theirs may belong to their customer -- an issue that will see the emergence of go-between brokering services able to exploit both parties.

For those of you that are not digitally-native, like me, you may regard this with a little touch of skepticism. A reported 45 per cent of Canadians are interested in the trend towards selling their data for rewards. You might ask, is this a trend only seen in Millennials? For those of us with a few more miles on the clock, we know that with age comes greater fear (I know I'm more scared of flying today than ever before), and a fierce desire for privacy, especially where our family's concerned. Is this trend only applicable to those with the great comfort that comes from growing up in an always on digital world? Will personal data brokering decline with age, or will today's twenty-something's be as comfortable managing their personal data in their forties as they are at perfecting selfies today?

Simply put, younger consumers have slightly greater intent to sell their data for rewards, and will become more sophisticated in building their online identities, however the data tells us that younger consumers are only slightly more interested as those in the 35-44 age group to further engage with this growing trend. The Personal Brand will evolve from being a collection of behaviours and expressions, to being a marketing profile too: profiles that will be continuously crafted and built upon to gain maximum rewards. As with many areas in life, people know how to game the system for their own benefit. In the not-too-distant future, people will have the marketer front of mind whenever they share or post something.