After two days at the AMA’s Human Edge of Big Data conference in San Diego this week I’m not sure I’m any clearer on the future of big data than I was when I left home – but I enjoyed listening to some very insightful professionals try to break down this phenomenon. I heard some interesting forecasts and attended a handful of compelling presentations on how organizations like Coca Cola and Hyundai are marrying big data sets into their business decision making. Yet there still seems to be this thick haze hanging over academia, corporate America and the research community about what exactly big data means when you boil it down to a tactical level.
One notable question bounced around in my head as I synthesized the totality of what I heard the last two days. How cozy can or should a brand get to me as a consumer when using big data to personalize our interactions? After all, big data is really just an amalgamation of our demographic and behavioral data sets, amassed over time as we work our way through our daily lives. Target for example knows what I regularly shop for and tailors its coupons to my consideration set. Amazon and Netflix also know what I like, what others who like my choices like, and actively recommend things to me based on my browsing and purchasing behaviors. Nordstrom surprisingly and instantly is able to pull up a list of addresses where I have resided over the years even though I don’t have a credit card with them and never purchased from them while living at most of those locations. But the salient point is, these are all brands I have a very strong affinity towards and if there is one thing I am, it is brand loyal. Over time I have cultivated a relationship and welcomed these brands into my life with regularity and trust.
So what happens when brands I am not so fond of begin targeting me with customized messages and communications that insinuate we have a relationship? Just because I trust Ann Taylor to reliably solve my last minute business attire conundrums, doesn’t mean that I want The Loft infiltrating my inbox or monopolizing the advertisements I see on the right sidebar of Facebook. After limited disappointing interactions it is safe to say we’re likely never going to be good friends. I might buy from The Loft on rare occasions but there isn’t enough stock on my end to perpetually invite the casual friend of a friend into my private affairs. Even worse is when targeting through big data goes horribly wrong and an ad that makes no sense at all appears on my Facebook feed. This ugly phenomenon was beautifully covered by Tom Ewing at the conference.
As we know, big data has many positive implications for brands as well as consumers. Perhaps most interesting and powerful is how this massive, data driven beast can actually open the door to more personalized interactions between brands and customers or potential customers. However, where the boundaries are and how the courting process should go is remarkably poorly defined from a best practice perspective. And considering that these calculated interactions can leave some pretty impactful impressions, both good and bad, it’s vital that companies get it right. Consensus at the conference was that brands that can, and should, respectfully welcome customers, but allow you to decide if you are going to be acquaintances or the best of friends.