Location and behaviour based marketing holds great promise for marketers. The wealth of customer data being collected online via social media use, combined with the ability to data crunch and layer in predictive analytics, plus the rapid growth of personal device use such as smartphones and tablets, renders the possibilities dizzying. This is virgin territory and I fear that our moral compass may be tested long before our legislators can catch up, if that is even possible, given data is warehoused globally and subject to different codes of use. So as we reach for the new shiny object, that is location and behaviour based targeting of messages, I do think it worthy to consider how far is too far. There is a fine line between exceptionally well-timed communications, and feeling you are being watched or stalked.
When does this hyper personal targeting become creepy?
I’m going to lead with a personal story, because it’s the one that brought my thoughts on this topic to the surface. For the past month, my mother has been hospitalized. Complications of poorly managed type II diabetes, high blood pressure and general old age that comes as you approach 90, had taken its toll on an independently living senior. I’ll spare you the details of a system that knows well how to care for patients, but is hopelessly broken when it comes to discharging and supporting independent living. Prior to finally getting her out, I was at Lions Gate Hospital and had had a very emotional conversation involving discussions on assisted living and cognitive assessments with one of several well meaning team members, but hopeless system bound bureaucrats assigned to my Mom’s case. I was feeling exhausted navigating advocacy in unfamiliar territory. I stepped away from the meeting, checked my email and Facebook page, and that’s when this sponsored post appeared in my feed.
It was from Kasel Care, claiming to be BC’s most compassionate home care for your loved ones. On one level it was a timely message of sorts, but it was also incredibly creepy. Had Facebook combed my messages to friends, noted my Mom was hospitalized, knew I was from North Vancouver and by default the hospital would be Lions Gate? Where they able to put enough tags within the predictive analytics to make me a likely candidate to receive this message? Or even creepier, was the GPS on my phone and location being Lions Gate Hospital at that particular moment, somehow tied to it all? In case you think I’m a little neurotic about this, all of the above tactics are possible and are currently being used in isolation by marketers. It all just seemed way too personal to me. It is possible that Kasel simply bought females 45-65 in BC or North Vancouver, knowing the likelihood of caring for an aging parent was high. But I am troubled at the thought of the content of my posts being put into a predictive analytics data bank, which I do think was highly likely.
A friend told me an interesting story recently involving his daughter and her cell phone carrier. Rogers had sent her a text offer for data roaming to the US. As it happens, she was about to take a trip with some girlfriends to California. The curious thing here is, she hadn’t posted via any social media news about the imminent trip. She had however been texting to her travel companions. It was the only medium that had transmitted knowledge of her travel. Had Rogers scraped her messages? It all seemed curiously suspicious to her Dad who works in IT and analytics. It was good timing for an offer, but it left her feeling watched on some level. Another customer might not have thought about it twice and simply accepted the offer, thinking, “How lucky is that to get this deal right now?” That’s why this stuff is so hard to navigate.
I’ve received sponsored posts for Growers Cider at happy hour, right in the middle of online conversations with girlfriends about needing to get together for drinks. Because it wasn’t personal, I dismissed it as serendipitous timing. It did seem a little Orwellian if it was tied to predictive analytics and behaviour based profiling though. Soma with your cider anyone?
Then there’s the infamous story of how Target knew a teen was pregnant before her father did. Their data tracking had allowed them to profile items purchased, to the point where they could actually predict by items bought in the first trimester, if a customer was pregnant – thereby allowing them to engage on a personal level with offers appealing to an expectant mother. Trouble was, they sent a card to a teen girls home, and her father intercepted questioning why it had been sent. Turns out Target knew something Dad didn’t. That’s just too personal. Here’s the Fox news coverage – not really the kind of publicity your company needs!
http://video.foxnews.com/v/1470704607001/target-knew-teen-was-pregnant-before-her-dad/ This example goes beyond creepy and ventures into respecting privacy and using data respectfully.
Coming full circle back to home care support. You may be wondering if I called Kasel Care? No I didn’t. I did check their Facebook page, but from a different device and later in the day, since I feared the tracking might escalate on my phone. I simply did not want another reminder showing up in my Facebook feed unexpectedly, of this emotional issue. While they may well have an excellent service that I should know about, the lingering question of feeling tracked bothered me.
What is the ethical application of predictive analytics and data mining? That is a huge issue we will be facing as marketers. The question becomes, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And if you do, how does it reflect on your business?”
Every individual has his or her own personal boundaries of what is acceptable personalization of a message or offer. There might be cultural influence, values, and past experience at play. What is OK to one may not be to another. This is a grey area indeed. Legislation won’t begin to catch up with it quickly enough.
So I guess the bottom line is to let your moral compass guide your ethics on this one and try to think broadly about how the message may be received by your target group. The relationship you secure with your customers may well depend on it.
So, have you received any notable behaviour or location based messages, in particular on your mobile device? Did you respond favourably or unfavourably to them? Why? I’d love to hear your stories. I think this will emerge as a huge issue going forward as marketers are forced to address responsible use of technology and consumer touch points.
Until next week, make ethics a virtue.