Big Implications Through Little Interactions

Smart marketers love data. It helps us get to know our customer better and communicate on a more personal level.

And thankfully, this treasured data is readily available. Consumers have an appetite for sharing their information, it’s an understood by-product of many of our interactions with the world.

But there is a caveat; there needs to be a value exchange. The individual must feel like they receive a fair benefit for the information they provide. If we get too greedy, ask too much or overuse it there is a strong chance this tide of information will ebb as people become too wary and stop sharing. For now, this pool of information is getting constantly stronger.

The question is: How can we use this gift to create value and transparency?

Recently, location based check-in app, Foursquare, split their service into two, releasing Swarm as a companion to their established app. The original app will now act as the discovery arm of the service, allowing users to find local recommendations based on user opinion and personal history (rivaling Yelp), whereas Swarm will focus on the checking-in aspect, and staying up to date with what your friends and network are up to.

Foursquare has always been a data collection machine. Not only does the service gather location data, it can be as specific as which particular section of a store you are in. And when combined with the frequency of visit, time frame and opinion – which is cross referenced with your social data, email and various other identifiers – Foursquare is creating a goldmine of personal data.

And now, with the release of Swarm, Foursquare is hoping to take that one step further – with always-on location sharing. While users have the option to disable the feature (known as Neighborhood sharing), the hope at Foursquare is that you will set-and-forget, allowing the app to show the current proximity of your friends and providing location based recommendations at contextually appropriate moments. This is a crucial shift. Foursquare have moved from requiring users to actively provide data, to passively collecting it from them in real-time. This means a lot more data.

But only 34,000 people in Australia are using Foursquare (of the 50 million+ worldwide) you say? It is no secret that almost everything we do online is logged, cross checked, and used in some way to build a profile on you.

Of course, this is but a drop in the ocean of the digital services that are building a profile on you. Apple’s iBeacon can (when activated) track a users movements around a store. Retailers have already utilised early forms of eyeball tracking for years which is sure to grow with devices such as Google Glass (and potentially Nokia’s rumoured competitor) hitting the market. And basically every keystroke you make or transaction you conduct is logged in various data banks all around the world.

As consumer awareness of privacy concerns continue to increase, how can this exist? The bottom line is that as much as people claim to be concerned about their privacy online, the majority of us adopt an ignorance is bliss approach – especially when there is something in it for us.  As long as the balance still swings on the side of offering personal benefit, a majority of users are likely to continue creating data.

What does this mean for marketers? Two things:

Broaden your consideration of contextual:

As more data is collected our contextual understanding will get smarter than just: what are we near. It will be informed by: What did we like, how often have we visited, what we did while we were there, what did other people do next, what did our friends think… the list goes on.  As these data collection methods become more and more autonomous the data collected will grow in quantity and quality.

The greater the data set, the greater the ability to truly communicate on a one-to-one level. Just as Foursquare cross references mobile signal strength with previous check-ins in the area to pinpoint location, marketers can cross reference this growing pool of data, going beyond simply serving an ad as someone walks past a store, to understanding an individual’s intention for walking past that store in the first place.

Remember to add value:

Now that we have this bucket of tasty data we have to put it to good use. The winners will be those with the richest data sets and the smarts to know what to do with it.

Remember the Internet in the 90s? Every business knew they needed a website, they just weren’t sure why. We ended up with thousands of static brochures for every local business, often hosted on Geocities and probably visited by nobody.

Contextual advertising has obvious implications for mobile and wearable technology but it must be done with the recipient in mind. Nobody wants a constant feed of deals and offers flashing in their vision, or their jacket vibrating constantly as it alerts you that your mum’s colleague just saved $2 at your favorite lunch spot.  Similarly we don’t want to be assaulted by personalised advertising every time we walk into a store.

When we use data to create a true value exchange, everybody wins. Enriching the lives of our customers through demonstrating an understanding and utility creates a sustainable benefit for both the consumer and the business and prevents data powered communications from becoming the new spam. If we do it right, brands might be set to play an even more vital role in our daily lives.

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