I find myself more and more frequently engaged in conversations these days with people who are concerned about their privacy as it pertains to technology and marketing. After spending many years managing analytics and insights for a retail grocer, and now working with Inmar’s numerous retail clients to deliver relevant, data-driven offers to their shoppers, I understand the topic is not new but still very relevant.
The disconnect between what people say and what they actually value is a curious paradox. Typically, the conversations I’ve been part of on this popular topic begin with someone asking an open-ended question about what “companies” do with all of the personal data they’re collecting; the question is usually rhetorical and is quickly followed with fear-laden phrases such as “big brother.”
I’m still unsure as to whether the strong emotions displayed are generated by genuine concern over loss of privacy, unceasing media attention focused on the issue, a never-ending stream of alerts from mobile applications asking for “permission to access your location” or some combination of all of these and more. Nevertheless, the emotion related to the topic is very real.
After listening for a few minutes more, I typically ask a question along the lines of “How do you feel about what you get in return for supplying your information?” A long pause follows as the question is considered.
I then offer that “for the information we supply, we get free email, free maps, free calendaring, a multitude of free mobile apps, access to a billion-member social network that allows easy communication with family and friends, a business networking platform that streamlines professional interaction and near-instant access to what is essentially the sum of all knowledge collected over the course of human history. Additionally, many services, such as Amazon and Netflix, provide recommendations for products or other services that we might like instead of bombarding us with unwanted and irrelevant advertising. Doesn’t it seem that these benefits have enriched our lives in many ways?” Another long, reflective pause follows…and this is where the conversation completely changes course as the trade-offs come clearly into view.
Free or subsidized technology has become so intertwined in our lives that we often take it for granted. We are so accustomed to it that we lose sight of the fact that there was a time not so long ago when researching specific battles in World War II, for example, required an expensive set of encyclopedias or an hours-long trip to the library.
True, enormous advances in technology have enabled this incredible connectivity, but such a system wouldn’t exist without the monetization of the data that flows through it. Everybody wins. And, the ways in which all parties “win” are beginning to manifest themselves in new and exciting ways.
With the exponential growth of usable shopper data, product offers can be served to shoppers with more relevancy than ever before. Your favorite store knows your favorite products, your preferred store location and when you like to shop — allowing them to deliver personalized, timely offers to you that you actually want to receive and that you will, most likely, use.
Previously, advertising was a much blunter instrument. It was often like a bucket of water thrown into a crowd with the hope that some of it quenched the thirst of a few people who would come back for more. Now, it’s our favorite beverage handed directly to us for us to enjoy at our leisure. If we have to choose one method or the other (and, unless we want to live in a cabin in the woods, we must), which one sounds better?
Most companies love and respect their customers. They treat them well. They are good stewards of the shopping data and other information in their possession. They do everything they can to earn and maintain the trust of those who do business with them. Those shoppers who share their data and spend their dollars with these companies will, in turn, reap the benefits of an increasingly tailored marketing and engagement experience that aligns with their unique wants and needs. Along the way, we’ll begin to forget how wasteful and irrelevant most advertising once was and will all find that “big brother” isn’t so scary after all.
Senior Director, Retail Analytics, Inmar