The 2002 film Minority Report presents a future in which law enforcement is empowered to arrest and imprison citizens based on the say-so of psychics. But to judge from the real world, true dystopia is not living in a world where you can be jailed for not-yet-committed crimes; it’s walking through a mall and receiving personalized offers from marketers.
Or maybe the better movie reference is Kramer vs. Kramer, with marketers in a continuing and epic struggle with users over who, exactly, owns, controls, and can use personal data. It’s not clear who’s winning that battle, and users have ever-more-clever weapons at their disposal: they’ve learned to block cookies, to weasel out of providing real email addresses, and to browse the web incognito.
Lately, they’ve even decided that “there oughta be a law for that.”
On the heels of reports that Apple’s popular iPhone was programmed to track its location and report that data back to Cupertino, and continuing criticisms of Facebook — and now Google — for how those companies store and mine user’s online data, Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia has introduced a “Do-Not-Track Online” bill that would limit how firms can track users’ behavior — the fourth of similar bills to be introduced nationally.
Undoubtedly, marketing messages that are tailored to a user’s interests, behavior and location can offer real value. Smart advertisers, however, understand that this messaging must offer a real and realizable value proposition bound in time and space by the specific value proposition, must fit within the user’s context of use, and must respect the user’s intimacy gradient.
Which means that before you decide to store your customers’ location data on your server for, like, ever, you should decide to offer your users’ a real and explicit value for doing so. Before you decide to add your voice to a cacophony of carnival barkers, you should wonder if your audience is in fact at a carnival, or simply strolling through a mall. And before you decide to announce within a public forum your shoppers’ recent underwear purchases, you should remember that they’re called unmentionables for a reason.
Ham-fisted messaging and butterfingered data custodianship won’t just erode your messaging. They’ll become your message.