When it comes to marketing, the future will be all about you
A woman adjusts her glasses while surfing the Internet at an Internet cafe in Beijing, China, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan)
Published Saturday, August 25, 2012 7:30AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, August 25, 2012 7:43AM EDT
Ten minutes are left on your lunch break. That gives you just enough time to duck into a nearby store and gaze at the shirt you pledged to buy two paycheques ago.
Suddenly, your phone buzzes. But it’s not your boss. It’s a message warning you that, alas, you still can’t afford that long-desired top. At least not right now.
But wait, who sent you the tip revealing the stark reality of your bank balance?
Breathe easy knowing, in the very least, it isn’t your mother.
The mystery informant is actually your bank, keeping tabs on you via an increasingly personal form of marketing that’s changing the way businesses interact with consumers.
Singapore-based DBS Bank calls it a “personal concierge”: a service that knows where you are, whether you’ve been there before and what you might like to buy.
The service can track your location using data transmitted from your smartphone and sends that information over to your bank through an application that you’ve downloaded. The financial institution then alerts you to any potential discounts -- or reminds you that you don’t have a lot of extra cash right now.
Though it sounds like a concept right out of the pages of a private eye’s handbook, the service is voluntary and you sign yourself up for the promotion.
So what’s in it for the business? Namely your enduring loyalty, tech expert John Bates explained in a blog post published in late July.
“Only relevant and qualified customers get offers. Irrelevant customers may see it as spam,” wrote Bates, Chief Technology Officer at Progress Software Corporation, a company which develops similar types of applications for businesses.
“Relevant customers become stickier as they feel the bank is providing a useful service. And the bank makes more money per customers.”
Personalized marketing isn’t a new concept. But, with consumer information more accessible than ever, institutions like DBS are using your personal data in increasingly creative ways.
Marketing professor Ken Wong says businesses have learned that they can use algorithms to predict what a consumer might like, before they know it themselves.
“An algorithm is just a formula and the formula is based on a number of predicting characteristics,” he told CTV’s Canada AM on Tuesday.
Applications are pieces of software on devices that make such predictions.
Here’s an example: You’ve just finished reading George Plimpton’s Paper Lion on your eReader. It’s 11 p.m., but you’re not tired at all. In fact, you think that you’re up to starting another book.
An algorithm will consider all the other books you’ve read on your eReader, use that data to predict what you might like and -- presto -- spit out a list of suggestions.
The use of algorithms, says Wong, appears to be where marketing is headed.
“In the past we always had to rely on surveys,” he explains. “That makes the presumption, number one, that we’ve captured somebody’s attitude properly and…that that attitude actually reflects their future behaviour.”
What makes algorithms effective, says Wong, is that this strategically laid-out formula will use your past behaviour to predict the future.
Just as Google’s search engine will remember how frequently you look for photos of uniquely styled moustaches or Shelties in Halloween costumes, a music retailer can use algorithms to log your past purchases and suggest other artists you might enjoy.
The same idea drives Facebook’s news feed, which prioritizes information based on what you’ve browsed or “liked” in the past. Businesses can, and do, take advantage of this by trying to interact more frequently with you using polls and status updates.
Your past actions online also help generate ads featured on Facebook and Gmail.
With a few clicks, a newly engaged person can see an ad boasting wedding rings on the cheap. While checking his or her email, a devoted soccer fan might see an ad for a nearby recreational league -- because, of course, the ad knows where you are.
Companies such as Sonic Notify are helping brands push content out to mobile devices based on the user’s surroundings. For instance, someone who’s just arrived at a concert might receive a text message about a deal at the merchandise booth.
Does this sound invasive?
“It certainly has the potential to be,” Wong concedes. “The thing that people forget though is that you always have this opportunity to turn off your device, or to deny advertisers access to your smartphone.”
Targeted content appears to have already caught on outside the marketing industry.
In late June, executives for Orbitz Travel confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that the travel website was experimenting with showing different hotels to Mac and PC users.
The rationale, according to the report, was that travellers who use Apple computers spend as much as 30 per cent more a night on hotels. Armed with that data, Orbitz’s initiative will steer Mac users to different, pricier hotels and travel packages.
Consumers can expect to see a lot more businesses using their digital information like this, predicted Mark Evans, a Toronto-based Internet marketing and start-up consultant.
“With the rise of big data and the ability to collect and analyze and manipulate data it’s no surprise that marketers are jumping on the data bandwagon,” he said.
Evans’ company, ME Consulting, designs marketing strategies for smaller businesses and start-ups, which typically don’t have the budget to make use of so-called big data.
But for larger businesses, large-scale consumer data collection is a no brainer, said Evans.
“The digital marketing landscape is extremely competitive,” he said. “Consumers are fickle and time-strapped. Any way that you can resonate with them and target them in a more effective way has got to be something that you consider, if not embrace.”