I’ve often heard people in my family say “what a coincidence, I was just talking about this or just looking for this product” while looking down at their phone, almost in awe and disbelief that they are now seeing an ad for that product on another website. I smile and say “it’s pretty cool huh?” and now that I’m somewhat in the know I further go on to wow them with how there are these things called cookies… and the basics of remarketing. Very quickly said family member goes from “wow that’s so cool” to “OMG really you mean they can really do that?!” And then I say “that and so much more” as I watch them look at their phone as if it were the enemy (I take no pleasure in this whatsoever).
Last week Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before US lawmakers amid the Facebook data scandal. This has been the topic of conversation for most of the week about how this data is being used, especially by people who don’t fully understand what they’ve “opted in” for.
There is essentially two kinds of data that can be collected from Facebook. The first kind is “content” — the photos, videos, status updates, news articles and other baubles that Facebook users are posting for their friends, or the whole world, to see. The second kind of data goes behind the curtain. It includes users’ location information, their Web browsing history, and the inferences that Facebook draws about them to tailor the kinds of ads they see. It is the second kind of data that has become invaluable to marketers, and being on the “other side” of things I can appreciate that this type of data has become a currency.
But what is it all for?
The business model of the Web is centred around creating a “personalised experience” for the user. The more tailored a service is to our interests the more likely we are to use it and the better that service will become. The amount of personal data available heavily affects the service the user gets. Brands use customer data to understand and build a relationship with customers by tailoring messaging, for example, if a customer booked a holiday you can send them opportunities for sightseeing tours, hotels and restaurants to visit. Savvy customers have even come to expect and demand personalised experiences from brands. Conflicting, uncoordinated messages from a brand just annoy them or even drive them away.
What does this mean for the user?
Without trying to scare you there are some of the most sophisticated algorithms that are constantly at work, analysing piles of offline and online data to predict your steps. Advertisers don’t just want to know what you might buy, they want to target you during Every. Step. Of. The. Buying. Journey. Brand messages are able to reach customers anywhere and everywhere across devices as well as the various marketing channels. Advertisers use data in order to be able to adapt when customers change their minds or preferences.
As a consumer, I can’t help but agree with Doug Garnett here when he says “In reality, what I think happens is that by tracking us, marketers find that WE are relevant to THEM. So they send us ads THEY want hoping we’ll spend money with them”.
If this all feels a bit invasive. It is. However, users shouldn’t feel like they are helpless to this process. If this makes you feel uncomfortable a good solution is to opt-out. I, however, have made peace with this process and prefer to let advertisers do the work for me, make suggestions and tailor my user experience to create my internet of things.