A glance at Amazon reveals a list of buying suggestions selected just for you; an email you receive shows blog content that interests you; a video ad plays between shows you’re streaming on Hulu and it matches your interests – and data is behind it all. Whether consumers realize it or not, we benefit in ways both large and small from the data that businesses collect and link to us.
While I realize that people find data collection disconcerting at times, especially in light of the recent Russian political meddling and the Facebook lawsuit, it’s important to realize that it also makes our lives easier.
Finding the Right Dress
For example, right now I need to find a very specific dress to wear to a wedding. This dress needs to be a deep purple (plum, really) but not too dark or too light. It needs to be floor length. It needs to look enough like the bridesmaid dresses for it to match the wedding party, but not so much that I’ll be mistaken for another bridesmaid. As you can imagine, there are a pretty limited number of dresses available in the correct color, style, size and price point for me to achieve this goal.
However, since I started looking I’ve seen more dress ads in my Facebook feed than ever before. You know what’s really great? They’re all purple; most of them are long. This is literally helping me find the dress that I’ll need for this wedding as marketers deliver advertising that targets precisely the types of dresses I’m browsing for at the moment.
These little moments throughout the day make my life, and your life, much simpler – and it’s all thanks to data.
Data-Driven Marketing is Not Bad
Perhaps when you think of businesses collecting data, you think of a straight-laced businessman deep in the heart of a soulless-looking corporate environment. He appears through glass doors on the way to a server farm that mines your personal information. Maybe this person is linked to other companies and they know everything about you: height, weight, personal shampoo preference, favorite foods, religious and political bent.
This mental image naturally seems a little intimidating. Heck, I’m getting the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it now.
Let’s bring it back to reality, though. Your data is used by marketers – people like me, who sit in offices of their own or open floor plan spaces. We drink a lot of coffee (a ton, like we all have Starbucks gold loyalty cards). We’re mostly female and tend to be younger than the industry average. Mostly, what we want is to help you find the perfect dress or other items you’re looking for.
Also, we don’t know that much about you. Might sound surprising right? But seriously, I might be able to select an interest such as “fundraising” but that’s it. I don’t know your name; I can’t connect you to this interest. I just know that somewhere along the way you got tagged with this selection. The folks over at Facebook won’t tell me who you are either.
What I can do with this one small detail is send you fundraising-relevant content and items about creating a better fundraising strategy. Hopefully, it makes your life a little easier.
However, sometimes they don’t even get it right. Ever seen a totally irrelevant ad? It stands out immediately. You notice because whether you realize it or not, you’ve gotten used to your data working in the background to marketers deliver the right kind of content for you. By now, you’re so used to personalized experiences (and most studies bear out the consumers actually do want these) that you might even complain about the lack of personalization.
Of course, this all relies on access to enough data to deliver the right experience for you.
In many ways, data use benefits consumers more than it harms. Manipulations by a foreign government need to be accounted for and treated seriously, but average marketers aren’t out to get you. You rely on technologies that use your data continuously, from the suggestions you receive on Netflix and Amazon to the ads that you see on the Internet.
The one thing I want to leave you with is this: think critically about all the ways that your data gets used, and if it is really a threat to your privacy.