VIth Sense: Marketing Data Is Creeping Along

Author: Tim Berney
Posted: Apr 17, 2018

When we discuss targeting capabilities of various digital platforms, clients often use the term ‘creepy.’ People can be a bit uneasy with the realization that they are being targeted with ads based on their own actions, purchases and self-reported information.




With Facebook in the news, it’s a good time to address marketing data and how it is used to send messages to a particular person or target audience. To be clear, marketers have long been profiling and targeting consumers based on various data. Early in my career we targeted people by the value of their home, television programs that they watched, radio formats they listened to, newspapers (or sections thereof) that they read, magazine subscriptions and so on.

Then more data was available and better targeting followed. We used credit card purchases, coupon redemptions, the kind of car they drove, where they shopped. We could build profiles of our target and use this data to find other ‘look-alike’ audiences.

Today we have so much more data, which allows for much more precise targeting opportunities. First, we know everything that you report about yourself. You do that by filling out your profile on the social media platforms that you use. But, also by things and places that you ‘like,’ photos that you post, videos that you watch, polls that you take — it tells a marketer (through the platform) what your preferences are. If you’re not doing it privately, you’re leaving it out there for everyone to see. Only, marketers see it in large chunks — not one piece of data at a time. So, if you like some fashion blogs and stopped scrolling to watch a video about how to tie a Windsor knot, then marketers can target you as a likely customer for men's clothing and serve you ads. I'm looking at you J Crew.

We also have the ability to ‘see’ what people are doing across the world wide web: which websites you are visiting, the ads you are clicking on, video views, downloads, etc. We don’t know who you are, but we can know the behavior of an individual person. This is usually where the ‘creepy’ term is used. It’s why you looked at a cable-knit sweater on and then you kept seeing ads about it on other (non-retail) websites that you visited. Of course, consumers can easily block our ability to track this data, but most don’t. 

Finally, once a person registers on a website and provides personal information, then we can tell what they are specifically doing on that website. This is how J.Crew knows what you looked at and then emails you asking if you want to take a second look.

But, there’s another perspective to all of this data gathering. Yes, we use it to build profiles and target consumers that are the most likely to purchase what we are selling. But, the consumer benefits too because the ads that we are serving them are much more relevant to them today than ever before. For instance, let's say you like golf and have somehow reported or shown preference for that online before. Today, you get served your share of ads for irons, balls, shoes, even courses you may be interested in playing. Advertisers are paying to serve ads that are relevant to you. 

We know that people would rather receive ads that are more relevant to them because we continue to track behaviors and collect data. Marketers who are good at this see their ad costs go down and conversions go up. 

Like anything there is a trade-off. Most social platforms, web applications, and websites are free of charge to use because of the ads. Just like television and radio were back in the day, so the internet is today. Free information and applications in exchange for advertising — just like it’s always been. Only today, you have a bit of a say in the ads that you see. Creepy? Or consumer’s choice?

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