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4 smart ways marketers are using customer data in the offline world

It's one of the toughest challenges retailers face: shoppers walk into a store, browse and then leave — without buying anything — and nobody, except the shopper, knows why. The same goes for billboards on highways or ads broadcasted in screens at the local mall. Who sees the ads and are they resonating with likely buyers?

Marketers could only guess until now. But thanks to big advances in facial recognition software, marketers are starting to gain insights in the offline world that, until now, have only been available online. Specifically, technology today can better track passers-by who show an interest in a store or an ad based on their movements and can make assumptions about, say, their gender and age range. This data, in turn, helps marketers deliver more relevant messages to the right consumers at the right time.

To be sure, the use of facial recognition is in its early stages and raises some potentially thorny privacy issues. For now, retailers that are experimenting with the technology are treading carefully, ensuring that any data gathered remains anonymous. Here are some of the creative — and unobtrusive — ways retailers are starting to take advantage of facial technology today:

  1. Intelligent in-store ads:  Retail giants Kraft and Adidas have used facial recognition technology on in-store billboards and kiosks to suggest specific products to nearby consumers based on characteristics like their gender and age, according to Forbes magazine. Adidas, for instance, recommends shoes for women based on their general age range, and Kraft says it's beginning to use facial recognition technology to suggest different macaroni-and-cheese recipes to women near one of its street-level billboards who appear to be young mothers. Immersive Labs, a New York-based technology company, develops software that enables companies to measure better how effective their street-level billboards are by tracking passers-by who take notice of their ads based on their general age, gender and the extent of their interest.
  2. In-store check-ins: Facedeals, an app developed by a Nashville, Tenn.-based advertising company, Redpepper, installs cameras at the entrances of stores that have signed up for the service. Consumers who have a Facebook account can scan a picture of themselves at a store's front door and 'check-in' on Facebook through the service. Those who check in can receive additional deals once they're inside the store.
  3. Analytics from video-screens: A U.K.-based advertising company, Amscreen, is rolling out a new advertising platform that can use facial recognition technology to deliver personalized ads to video screens installed at thousands of gas stations and convenience stores throughout Europe, according to Mashable. The platform allows marketers to monitor the effectiveness of their ads in real-time and enables them to change (in real-time) from, say, ads aimed at men of a certain age to ads that might be relevant when a store is full of women shoppers.
  4. Smart displays: An unidentified group of retailers in Europe and the United States are using mannequins equipped with surveillance cameras that can track the gender, age and race of consumers who pass by or stop to look at the mannequins.

What's your take? As a marketer, how far would you go to offer a more personalized experience to customers? If you put your consumer hat on, do you think this stuff is cool or creepy?

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