Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Marketing and the Digital Self - Part 1

How do digital bread crumbs relate to marketing?

The benefit of a digital world where nearly everything we see or touch is interactive is that we can actuate our human desire to share.  The rise of social technology reinforces the notion that “self-expression is the new entertainment”  (Arianna Huffington).  The unintended consequence of all of this for media is disruption as both new players and new channels of distribution emerge.  And with all things digital, as we share content we’re creating a trail of breadcrumbs, or a ‘digital self.’

And, this leaves us with a fresh question:
Do the signals left by digital self-expression represent a foundation for selling stuff?
On the one hand, this is viewed as a dream come true: We know what a person does, what her interests are, and with whom she communicates.   One can’t imagine a better way to create a target rich environment for personalized communication and or laser-focused advertising.  

However, identifying individuals based on their behavior raises a thorny question:  Do we need permission to use the digital self as a platform for targeting?   Many of the industry approaches to this dilemma take a loosely aggregated or anonymous approach to avoid identification of specific individuals through the creation of segments, predictive models or even an IP Zone.  While this is often framed as a question of privacy, there are some basic marketing questions as well. 
  1. Are the crumbs we see reflective of the need we satisfy?
  2. When does self-expression relate to a commercial interest?
  3. How do we distinguish transient self-expression from core intent?

An approach would be to try to glean insights from the combination of purchase history and the digital self.   Since these represent two very different personae this route might help reduce the amount of inference, and frankly guesswork, required to understand a consumer’s intentions.   Yet to do this requires some serious integration work starting with the acceptance that we live in a brave new world.    

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