How Well Do You Know Your Consumer?

The success of programmatic media delivery hinges on activity data

One of the major things marketers have yet to get a grip on is who their audience really is, or more importantly and less invasively, how their audience acts. 

Illustration: Magoz

This is where wearable tech, the Internet of Things and big data are going to significantly change the status quo in the coming years. These, along with vehicle data, 3-D spatial data (Google’s Project Tango), biometrics and tons of other information that is bound to be produced by next-generation devices, and home automation systems, provide a range of new opportunities for consumers to receive actual value, rather than messages, from brands.

Think of being able to really understand someone through their behavior as if you were observing them throughout the day and had the opportunity to lend a hand when they needed it most, or slip a coupon in front of them just as they were thinking about going out for coffee. We’re close to the point when marketers will be able to attach their brand messages to moments in people’s lives, to their interactions, in the physical world.

But, wait … that’s scary, right?

It’s only creepy if there isn’t an equal exchange between the consumer and the brand. The thought of data shifting from being about an individual to an individual’s activities and environment is pretty profound. Ultimately, consumers will find the benefits of providing anonymous data in exchange for valuable experiences a lot less irritating than page-overs, endless commercial breaks and dark patterns in digital user experiences attempting to trap them into an acquisition funnel.

The first step to seeing this happen is the ability to deliver hyper-contextual messages to consumers, which is already happening through services like Google Now and through channels like Kiip’s rewards network. Via trends like the “Quantified Self” (using health/wellness trackers from connected devices to tune one’s mental and physical well-being), consumers are starting to produce data that can act as inputs to the algorithms that lie behind the future of programmatic media delivery.

Making sense of all of this data is challenging though, and while some tools exist that allow users to understand and act on the data they produce, nothing yet serves the purpose of aggregating data from numerous sources. For the average person, interpreting such disparate information is challenging, and opportunities exist for brands to help provide those additional insights—offering perspective as a service.

In order for this to become a reality though, this future state requires a strengthening of the relationship between consumers and brands. Privacy and data security are key to making this happen, and nobody wants to feel like they’ve been tricked into relinquishing control in any way.

In April, the Facebook Messenger application saw a backlash after the questionable new terms of service were published along with the application release. Perhaps the value Facebook is trying to create for users isn’t quite on par with the necessity to opt in to having audio recorded at any time, access your camera at will and run through any other content on your phone in order to better understand you, your preferences, activity and connections.

We’ve also recently seen the upheaval caused when Facebook, as well as OkCupid, have employed tactics that altered the user experience in order to gain insights. These experiments aren’t necessarily a big deviation from what many brands are currently doing on the Web to try to better understand customers. So will consumers really trust brands with this type of information? If sneaky attempts to get it continue, it may create a backlash and reset brand/consumer relations.

This is why the concept of data brokerages is emerging. These brokers will give consumers the ability to sell or grant rights to their data for use by brands in an exchange for value or outright cash.

By putting consumer intention and action first, brands can provide real value and form an exchange that is comfortable and profitable for both parties. That said, there are countless ways unsavory marketing practices could ruin it all before we even get out of the gate. So take this as a PSA to market responsibly.

Your future self thanks you.

Dave Meeker (@dmeeker) is vp of innovation at Isobar.