The only profession more prone to hyperbole than marketer is politician. So when politicians took aim at marketers by proposing “do not track” legislation, the rhetoric was hip deep on both sides. Politicians claimed the privacy of Internet users was under attack from unscrupulous marketers bent on using that data to…what exactly? Whatever it was, it was very, very bad.
Marketers responded by claiming such legislation would cut them off at the knees. Relevant content? Gone. Free apps? Gone. Experiences that are tailored to the individual user? Gone. Marketers claimed that users demanded such things and preventing them from gathering the data to do that would lead to “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria!” Or maybe that was Peter Venkman.
The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. Consumers would be shocked if they were privy to the volume of data collected about them, and not just online. Yet the majority of that data is put to beneficial use such as the aforementioned personalized content and free applications that make iPads, smartphones and even archaic technology like computers such useful devices.
Truth is, like so much of what emerges from the Beltway, even if a “do not track” bill passed into law it would be much ado about almost nothing. While behavioral tracking is a useful if lazy way to collect data about a customer’s or prospect’s preferences, social tools like Facebook and Twitter or interactive tools like personalized landing pages (pURLs) and QR codes allow marketers to go beyond simple tracking to the ultimate purpose for all this data collection: engagement.
Instead of covertly observing a person’s activity and then subtly altering communication with them–doesn’t that sound creepy?–social and interactive engagement openly discusses likes and dislikes to develop a clearer picture of an audience. Creating enticing content or offers in real-time based on that dialog resonates with a now engaged audience who can then easily share their experience with friends and colleagues, further deepening the engagement.
When marketers stop treating their audience as a collection of data points we’ll reach true marketing nirvana: brands serving relevant content to engaged, eager individuals who become loyal brand advocates. Not sure what the politicians will do when they don’t have marketers to kick around anymore, but I imagine they’ll come up with something.