Researchers at the University of Cambridge recently wowed marketers and worried privacy advocates with the release of a report on social media users. The report also contains information that companies using CRM solutions should note.
In a nutshell, the researchers found that it is possible to predict intimate personal characteristics, such as sexual orientation or intelligence or whether one’s parents split when they were young, all by studying a person’s Facebook “likes.” In fact, the study was able to determine a person’s race, age, IQ, personality, substance use and political views, all from the likes he or she clicked.
A Treasure Trove of Data
This study is one of a growing store of evidence that people are leaving a treasure trove of digital data about themselves online, whether they realize it or not. While online privacy advocates have fiercely debated this issue over the years, members of the marketing community who use business intelligence solutions have said little. That’s not surprising since they clearly benefit from all the data.
It may be time, though, for marketers to start having the conversation, if only for practical reasons.
Marketing technology is becoming more and more refined, more targeted and more invasive in people’s personal lives. This technology, coupled with the wealth of data marketers can collect about its customers, have the ability to thoroughly creep customers out.
One example was reported in the New York Times recently: Target was able to determine, correctly, that a teenage customer was pregnant before her father knew. No, Target had no nefarious motives. It’s just looking for ways to identify expectant parents so it can get them to buy all their baby gear, A-to-Z, at Target. Still, companies will want to be careful in how they use the data they mine.
Better Technology Brought to Bear Every Day
While the Target example might seem extreme, variations of it are played out every day as marketers use better and better technology to target their customers. Let’s consider two online marketing technologies that are growing in popularity: ad retargeting and the use of QR codes.
Ad retargeting refers to showing a consumer an ad for a product he or she has looked at on a website — but didn’t buy. The theory is that she is mulling over that potential purchase of, say, a new Coach bag, and just needs a nudge – say a bright, vivid picture of said Coach bag next to the news article she is reading.
The other example, QR codes, holds similar potential to disrespect consumers’ boundaries. Briefly, QR codes are used by marketers to relay information to consumers via their smartphones. You see them everywhere, from product labels to movie posters.
The technology is improving, though, allowing companies to deliver more personal messages via the QR codes. Some major retailers have experimented with QR technology that displays information and initiates certain actions based on the purchase history of the person scanning the code.
A Moment for Caution
Neither of these examples are black-and-white illustrations of marketing stepping over the line. In the case of retargeting, there are numerous studies that show it is highly effective. Ditto QR codes. Still, it is clear that marketers must take care in how often a consumer is targeted using a certain piece of information, especially if the product in question is a sensitive one.
Indeed, there is a fine line between effective and creepy. Until technology learns to tell the difference between the two, marketers will have to stay on top of these campaigns and processes.