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Big Brother’s Lessons for Marketers

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Big BrotherWith the spotlight on the NSA wiretapping programs and the smell of Big Brother still fresh, it’s worth reviewing a bit about those who have the most data, are best at using that data and have the most to gain from data. I am not talking about you, Uncle Sam, I am talking about you, the data-savvy marketer.

First, as much as it’s fun to act totally surprised and outraged at the recent revelations, let’s acknowledge that data recognition, collection and use is already happening across devices, platforms and media with express written consent of the consumer. That’s right, marketers get permission – implicitly and explicitly. When Google takes two or three letters to auto-populate a search that it deems interesting to you, it’s happening. And anyone with a Gmail account has seen ads optimized to the content of their conversations, while Facebook users are being told what other friends listen to on Pandora, and how many pigs they need to complete their Farmville pen. Oh the outrage! Why?

While none of us like the idea of a “peeping Tom,” we also have come to collectively understand that in a digitally-rich world, there is a trade-off between relevance and privacy. We quickly “connect” past those warnings and disclaimers in search of some sort of content nirvana. We do so knowing that our personal records are exposed, perhaps not realizing exactly how, to whom, and so forth. So the questions become: how do marketers create better personalized experiences and plan their next moves without scaring the consumer? And how much of that data can really be used to sell goods, anyway?

The answer to the latter is: it depends. It depends on which format, which platform, which channel, which creative asset or script or text or piece of audio a marketer is trying to bait the consumer to buy. Usually with retail for instance, the content problem is one of logistics – a rapidly diminished ROI emerges when companies look at matching every consumer with an original, made-for-you advertisement.

The truth: brands don’t necessarily need all that data.

The tip: Working with what you know, you can use persona development to inform your understanding of your target audience. Look at your customer data, determine a solid segmentation strategy and advertise to those personas. Look at purchase history, cart abandonment and a few key criteria to get you started.

Now, to the question of being scary. Again, it depends on the variables of platform, channel, assets and contextual information. But the rule of thumb is this: relevance matters, but the way it’s expressed matters even more.

If you’re going to collect data in the name of a “customized experience” then you actually have to follow through and customize the experience  For instance, if a customer creates a profile (or a purchase history) within your website indicating their interests are fashion and cosmetics, don’t ONLY market things in that category to them.

Also, watch the throttle. Having permission does not mean you have to use it at every turn. App makers are realizing just because they are granted the right to push alerts to a social graph doesn’t mean every action should pushed to everyone. Watching the email frequency, the texting and push alerts are all new tools that marketers need to use with care.

Respecting privacy and creating personalized experiences don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Marketers have the necessary assets at their fingertips without having to cross the privacy threshold, It’s simply a matter of managing those assets strategically and delivering on your brand and promotional promises.

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Michael Caccavale

As the leader of Pluris, CEO Michael Caccavale is the innovator and forward-thinker behind the company’s marketing enablement, analytic and optimization solutions.

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