In the 1982 film Poltergeist, the little girl in the family becomes aware of the “TV people”, spirits manifesting themselves within the television. The first sign something was up is when the Dad falls asleep, the TV turns to white noise, and the youngest daughter hears the spirits talking and comes downstairs, places her hands on the TV saying, “They’re here!”
No one in the family knows what’s coming and that the little girl has invited in the spirits and things turn ugly fast (by the way, if you haven’t seen it, rent it this Halloween and watch it with all the lights off).
We all know “they’re here” (services that analyze and aggregate what we’re doing online) but it’s happening so slowly, so stealthily and so seamlessly that most of us aren’t really aware of what’s coming.
I can talk until I’m blue in the face with clients about the power of “The Big Three“: Predictive analytics; location awareness; and presence awareness. These three are enabling all the major companies to perform precision targeting of ads by understanding our likely behavior and response to an ad, determining where we are located at that moment, and whether we’re online. The last one, by the way, will matter more as smartphones and mobile devices allow always-on apps to run in the background so marketers can deliver ads in real-time wherever we are at the moment.
You probably already know this but if you don’t, The Big Three are already here and living among us. And every smart app developer and online company are using them in some fashion! Is this a good thing or is it evil?
Leveraging The Big Three is the Holy Grail at the end of the quest for marketers who desperately want for you and I to receive ads that matter. Rather than traditional marketing’s approach (throw everything up on the wall to see what sticks) giving you an ad you might actually watch can potentially be a very good thing. But until people actually experience these predictive/location/presence phenomena, it just doesn’t sink in.
Smartphone-based services like Foursquare, Loopt and many others are significantly more powerful if the user opts-in to “Allow” updates and, in effect, tracking of themselves. When I check in to a restaurant with Foursquare, for example, I can’t tell you how frequently I now get a location-based popup that tells me that a nearby ice cream shop/cigar store or bar has a recommendation that I stop by their place of business. This happens because I opted to allow my location to be known by Foursquare and that I was willing to accept push notifications, both of which I do since they’re relatively innocuous.
It’s still a huge challenge for marketers to track a user from device-to-device since more of us are moving from our desktop/laptop computer to a smartphone and then to an iPad and then maybe to an office computer….
….or is it?
If you have an iPod, iPhone or AppleTV, imagine what Apple knows about you. They have your credit card on file since you have an account with them (even if you only get free apps you have to have an account) so just that alone enables Apple to obtain a wealth of data: your credit score; home address; age; marital status; and more. Your purchases allow them to understand you and your behaviors as well as when you buy, how much you buy, what triggers your buying behaviors and so on (just look at what the Genius recommendation service does: it looks at what you own and then shows you what you might want to buy next). Now with Apple’s iAd being deployed, I think we’ll finally see Apple actually leverage all of this data they own and begin to accelerate their use of The Big Three.
Google’s stealthy approach to give us apps for free (e.g., Gmail, Calendar, Docs, YouTube, Profile, et al) means that it’s highly likely most of us will choose at least ONE of their services. Once logged in, Google has the capability to begin to store data about us. Let me give you an example from the year 2000 when I was at the dotcom darling, Vignette.
Our content management system (CMS) platform used by almost all the major corporations, media conglomerates and governments in the world was geared to easily deliver pages and components on those pages to an anonymous user. Our CMS customers could use this anonymous capability to begin to track visitor usage, create business rules to deliver compelling content based on what that visitor was clicking on, and to periodically ask for little tidbits of info while the visitor was browsing: your age, for example. Then your zip code. Next maybe whether you’re married with children. Most of us would gladly hand over these tidbits of information….after all, we’re anonymous, right?
But eventually when you DID join or login, THEN the CMS would collate ALL that data together and have a strong and highly detailed profile on you and be able to understand what you were interested in and what products and services you’d likely buy. This is exactly the same sort of strategy being deployed by Google, Foursquare, Apple and so many others, but is being done with the understanding that we are all using multiple devices so it’s imperative the services they deliver are geared to compel you to opt-in for location, presence and with enough data to enable these companies to predict what you’re likely to do next.
So is it a big deal to trade all of that privacy?
TRADING PRIVACY FOR VALUE
Maybe this subheadline should read, “TRADING DATA FOR VALUE”.
The bad news about either trading privacy or our data for value is the mindset of so many leaders. Former Sun Microsystems CEO, Scott McNealy, once famously said when launching a new product with consumer privacy downsides, “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.” I know that even a guy like me, someone acutely aware of the state-of-the-art in predictive analytics, facial recognition, gate analysis (the way you walk is like a fingerprint) and other tracking technologies still willingly embraces most of the new services that leverage The Big Three in a myriad of ways.
The good news is:
1) Used in a positive way, The Big Three deliver huge value to us. At some point, the only ads you’ll see on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or GoogleTV/AppleTV/Boxee or other internet-connected TV box will be ads that YOU care about and would be receptive to receiving. With “Genius” services like Apple’s, the value I receive from Google’s apps, and the delight I get from Foursquare, and all the other apps that are free but driven by (today’s relatively benign) targeted ads, I’m so far willing to allow location and presence awareness tracking.
2) The Big Three will make advertising more efficient and measurable. This means that marketers can more easily target specific groups of people (or individuals) with targeted advertising or offers that matter to them. Most importantly, imagine how the “noise” will be reduced when you’re NOT bombarded by stuff you would NEVER care about and/or buy in your life?
In addition, as marketers become more efficient on getting rates of return on their advertising by being laser-focused on target market segments, expect that you’ll be receiving a lot more free applications, TV services and other value in exchange for your willingness to opt-in.
If you’re a marketer or organizational leader, I’m certain you’re giddy about what’s already possible and what’s coming next. At the same time it is confusing, complex and the path to executing on a Big Three strategy is not terribly clear, but it will become clearer going forward as the technologies and social media tactics mature.
If you’re just a consumer of these sorts of services, just be aware of what you’re trading away and what you’re getting in return, especially as marketers become increasingly sophisticated in what they’re delivering to you. If you don’t “get it” on how they’re using the data collected, ask. If you don’t get the answers you want, build buzz on social media and get people talking about it. Just don’t hand over everything with a childlike trust.
What do you think?
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.