Are You Being Creepy?
By Mark Cameron
A recent article in TechCrunch reported that Facebook has been going beyond collecting the data of its users. It is also collecting the data of the people who are simply connected to its users, creating ‘shadow’ accounts that can be activated in the event that those people sign up.
Online companies rely on the collection of our data to generate their business. Access to their users is what they are selling to advertisers. If a service is free, then we, the users, become the product rather than the customer. At what point does all of this data collection simply become scary, and how can companies that are investing in digital marketing ensure they aren’t perceived as Orwellian, or “creepy”?
Brands need to realize that they are not Google, and they certainly aren’t the NSA. Many have invested heavily in “AdTech” (marketing automation, data gathering and big-data analytic software tools), but all brands can choose how they deploy these tools.
With the right technology investment a brand could develop a “surveillance and precision targeting” approach to marketing. In fact, many brands are already doing this with varying degrees of success. In the short term, just focusing on immediate transactional targets may help your organization reach its quarterly targets. But to keep hitting the targets you’ll need more data, better models and eventually your brand may start to become a little bit “creepy”. So this approach raises serious questions about brand behavior in the long term.
Another more enlightened approach is to focus on the long-term relationship your brand has with your customers. Use the data you collect and insights you gain about your market to develop new digital services for your customers. Use a large percentage of the marketing budget that is likely being wasted on messages that are ignored, and invest it in building software that will genuinely surprise and delight.
The creepy factor has begun to edge its way into marketing because brands can often lose sight of the fun, creative stuff that people actually want to engage with. Technology has made some forms of marketing more about spying, harvesting email addresses and “surgical strikes” than providing real value to customers.
There is nothing wrong with investing in marketing technology. Indeed, for most brands they have little option. But it is worth remembering that you are trying to develop a relationship with a person—your customer. So make sure you are investing in the relationship, not just the technology.
Mark Cameron is CEO and lead strategist of social media conversion and commercialization agency Working Three. While his agency is based in Melbourne, Australia, he works for some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking brands. As a regular speaker and writer on social media and digital strategy, Mark stays focused on customers and outcomes, not the technology, leading to simple strategic conclusions.