Marketers love to track things about consumers. We track who you are, where you’ve been, what you’re saying, the sites you visit, the apps you download and a whole mess of other characteristics. The idea, for years, has been…the more we track about you, the more we learn about you and the better we can customize offers and content for you. Great in theory, poor in practice…usually.
One of the earliest attempts at this was the warranty card a consumer would send in, after buying a product. When you purchased that new stove, back in the day, the store collected some information about you. They knew your address, your name and how you paid (cash, check or card). If they were sophisticated, they kept a log of what you bought, how often you bought and when the items you purchased, needed servicing. That information rarely made it back to the manufacturer though. The way the manufacturer gained some type of understanding about the consumers who purchased their products, was that warranty card. The carrot (or stick, depending on your POV) they used to ensure compliance, was the warranty itself. There was NO warranty covering your product, without a completed card. Sneaky, yes. Smart, at the time, yes.
When we graduated to the dawn of the internet, things got a bit more sophisticated. We had cookies. Cookies left a digital set of crumbs that helped marketers understand where you went and what you did on the web. From there, we made assumptions about who you were and what you were interested in. But, we were bad marketers. Instead of using that information to better the customer experience, we used it to retarget them to death…serving them pop-ups at every corner and forcing them to…
The simple solve for improving any browser/web surfing experience, was to delete your cookies. The minute you did that, marketers, were back to square 1, when it came to tracking, understanding and advertising to customers. This became a constant battle of catch me, if you can.
This chase wasn’t efficient or fun. Thankfully, with social media and specifically, Facebook, marketers finally had a method for understanding just about everything they wanted to know about a consumer. Facebook told us who you were…yes, specifically, who you were. We had name, date of birth, location, relationship status, brand/product interests, what places you’d visited and so much more. As Facebook evolved and launched Facebook Connect, we gained even more information. We knew what other sites you visited and the apps you were using. Quick sidebar – I’m convinced, that at some point, Facebook is going to implement a Facebook tax on every call made from a site/app to Facebook Connect. While this wasn’t a perfect solve, it got us closer.
As mobile went from, “it’s going to be big” to “wow, mobile is huge”, marketers would betrayed the trust of customers. There was probably no greater example than that of Carrier IQ. Companies like Apple, HTC, Samsung, etc. would install Carrier IQ’s software services on phones as a means to collect information that would help them improve the phones. On the surface, not a horrible thing. Except for 1 big detail…Carrier IQ, wasn’t providing information anonymously and they were tracking things that weren’t diagnostic related, like every keystroke you made. No surprise, Carrier IQ was sued. It was situations like this and programs like Facebook’s beacon initiative that, in my opinion, accelerated the movement toward the rise of apps and experiences that focused on anonymity.
Today, apps like YikYak, Snapchat and Whisper are growing leaps and bounds. The minute a company releases a new piece of software or an operating system, articles like this are published to help consumers regain some of their freedom, by disabling features that track them. It obviously didn’t help, that the whole, Edward Snowden “thing” happened. Not exactly a situation that makes you feel comfortable about being tracked. That Snowden revelation lead to the growth of Tor, a free platform, designed to stop advertisers and the government from tracking you.
I believe we’re on the precipice of battle around tracking. The more marketers build new ways to track customers, the more customers will find new ways to remain hidden. How long til we’re wrapping our cars in tin foil to avoid tracking from Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. By the way, it’s completely possible to that…
So, what’s a marketer to do? I don’t have all the answers, but wearing both my consumer and marketer hat, here’s a few thoughts:
- I don’t think this can be solved by technology…alone.
- I think we’re going to see consumers become brokers of their own data. Imagine a BlueKai style approach for consumers. As brokers of their own data, consumers will get to choose not only what data they share, but with whom. They’ll also be compensated for sharing that data on a case-by-case basis.
- We’re going to see some type of dashboard solution provided by companies to show customers the data they’re collecting, why they’re collecting it, who it’s shared with (if anyone) and how to opt-out (along with the consequences of doing so) of that data collection. Google already does this, via Google Dashboard. I think others will follow suit.
- Custom, not creepy, will become a mantra. Using data to shape and inform the content, offers and advertising that are put in front of a consumer so that they’re relevant, helpful, interesting and actionable, is going to be the key. Using data in a way to trick, trap or incessantly interrupt a consumer, will become the path to failure.
We’re at an interesting and unique place in time. Never before has there been so much data, so many ways to collect it and so many ways to use it. When that data becomes something truly helpful, our trust in data integrity, increases. If you have a Nest thermostat, think about the moment, when the collection of your data, enabled your Nest to surprise you in a delightful way. Maybe it was coming home to your house, in the middle of Summer, on a hot day, but finding the inside of your home, cool and comfortable. Or, if you’ve ever used Waze, that awesome moment, when you were rerouted on a different path, to avoid a an accident that was causing traffic to back up.
We are all data now. There’s no denying this. We can track our steps, our heartbeat, the purchases we make, the beer we drink and the friends we talk to. The dawn of big data for the little guy, is here. What becomes of that data and how it’s used, will shape the type of relationship we, as consumers, want to have with marketers.