Zoologists and the like tag animals in order to track them
over long periods and better understand their behavior. Marketers would like nothing better than to
do the same to you and I, and in many ways it’s already happening. Luckily most companies take privacy very
seriously, but the technology exists to build detailed profiles on us not
unlike gathering data from Serengeti lions.
Retailers used to rely on focus groups to understand how
best to merchandise stores and target their advertising. But as technology has advanced, it’s now possible
to collect and analyze terabytes of real consumer-based data. And instead of segmenting customers into
similar groups, it’s possible to build individual profiles that are very
specific and detailed. All of this is an
effort to understand which levers to pull to affect behavior and increase
Websites have been tracking us for years using cookies,
which are unique tags that are stored on our computers and mobile phones. While a cookie doesn’t know your name, it
represents a list of websites you’ve visited. Between my PC and mobile phone, I am always “on the grid” and easily
tracked. These cookies are used to
tailor advertising to your implied interests, including “retargeting,” the
practice of enticing you back to a website you’ve visited in the past.
There are three main types of data that can be collected
about you: your social graph, interest
graph, and location graph. Combined,
they can help marketers choose the right levers to influence your behavior. Some call it targeting, others call it
personalization; it all depends on your perspective.
Social Graph (“Who”)
Your social graph depicts your relationships with friends,
co-workers, family, and other acquaintances. Each person is a node, and the lines between the nodes can be of varying
thickness to represent the strength of the connection, depending on how often you
interact with each person. The easiest
way to build a social graph is the get the data from social sites like Facebook
and Linkedin, but those sites typically don’t share the data. So marketers have to establish connections by
other means such as working at the same company, living in the same
neighborhood, attending the same school, or visiting the same websites.
The goal is to determine who wields the influence within a
social graph, which is of course contextual to the topic. These influencers derive their power from
different angles, but in the end they are able to influence sales. There are experts, like book reviewers and
industry analysts, trendsetters, like celebrities and fashion designers, and
advocates, like sports fans and zealots.
Interest Graph (“What”)
Built on top of the social graph is the interest graph,
which associates interests with people. If the social graph is best represented by Facebook, then the interest
graph is represented by Twitter or Quora. Many interests can be inferred from the websites you visit, the ads you
click, and the products you purchase. Connected
people with shared interest have influence over each other. Every time Bob buys music, three people in
his graph buy the same music. They share
music as an interest, and Bob is the influencer in the group for that product
Sometimes retailers need only to ask for this information,
as many consumers are willing to provide their interest in exchange for more
relevant offers. (Remember, younger
generations are less concerned about privacy.) Take Botiques.com for example. When you sign-up with the website, you are asked to select your
preferred fashion outfits from a series. That information is used to discern the types of fashion that interest
you, and personalize the website.
Location Graph (“Where”)
While it’s illegal to track a person’s movement via their
mobile phone without proper authority, the data exists. As your phone switches between cell towers or
WiFi routers, a pretty accurate picture of your movements can be captured. Mobile phone companies use this data in
aggregate to understand where additional towers are needed, but tracking these
masses can also help understand migration patterns like where people
congregate, the paths they take, and how long they dwell. This information helps locate new stores,
advertising billboards, and location-based marketing (like geo-fencing).
Leveraging Your Profile
With the advancements in processing so-called “big data,”
it’s possible to analyze terabytes of data to assemble these three graphs a
thus create accurate profiles of individuals. Then they can be used to personalize offers and experiences for
individuals both online and in stores, which can be a win-win for both
retailers and consumers.
I only hope I’m allowed to monitor and correct my own
profile, so I’m not stuck constantly receiving offers for perfume and Legos after
shopping for my lioness and cubs.