Can Targeted Marketing always be Relevant?
One of the great potentials of digital marketing is to target content to potential customers in ways never possible before. The simple premise being better targeting equals more relevance, which increases engagement and more sales. And it works. Digital advertisers and marketers have increasingly rich data sources such as Facebook and very, powerful tools e.g. eTrigue to gather intelligence on which to develop, target and track campaigns across a variety of media.
A whole new era of advertising, content, and experiences is now well underway fuelled by this deeper marketing intelligence and audience insight, in tandem with a host of technological advances such as mobile tagging, location based services, emerging mobile payment options, smarter smart devices and a more networked world. We have augmented reality billboards to real time offers pushed to our devices based on a range of rules and circumstances.
So we’ve figured it all out, right?
As with so many innovations there is often a potential downside. I sense one here and it has the same sentiments as the following exchange in the Matrix (when the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar are discussing what food really tastes like):-
“It’s a single cell protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins and minerals. Everything the body needs. ”
“It doesn’t have everything the body needs. What about the soul?”
The missing ingredient?
The character is simply implying that the gloopy substance was missing an important ingredient – soul, that food was about more than just the right nutrients. Yes digital marketers and experience designers have the ability to serve relevant advertising but is the definition of ‘relevant’ too narrow? Too much targeting (power and control) removes something truly relevant to people, surprises. I’m not talking about ‘you might like this’ variations, I mean random, non-logical, unpredicted, genuine surprises. The unexpected.
Surprises and random events seem to me to be important aspects of life. The quandary is that sometimes we don’t know what we are going to like until we’ve experienced it. Our decisions can break previous patterns. People’s tastes and needs change. Do they all do so in predictable ways? Can everything be encapsulated in an algorithm or data trend? Perhaps not, as Google is now finding, as it increasingly has to compete with Social Search and ‘recommendation engines’ like Twitter. Even if each of us does fall into a definable box, will targeting us so precisely always be the right thing to do? I don’t want to be bombarded with irrelevant messages but I’m not sure I only ever want to see products or services that someone else thinks are relevant to me either.
What to leave out…
I’m not advocating that we abandon rich data sources and tracking tools which can provide incredible intelligence and insight. However, I am saying that these things are incredibly powerful and have the potential to ‘cleanse’ experiences into predictable boring boxes, undermining the potential of digital. Too much of it we might end up like a kid sick on chocolate. One of the challenges for digital marketers, experience designers and technology companies, is to ensure that there are some genuine surprises on and offline. Leaving scope for the unexpected is highly relevant.