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man with questions

Does targeted communication impact who we become?

Will businesses that collect preference data start to impact who we become as individuals? Five years from now almost every single thing we are exposed to will be personalised. Is this good or bad? Will this begin to steer our preference as opposed to simply leveraging it?

This is no scare tactic. That is definitely not my intent with this post. I just find it fascinating to think about! How will this targeted communication impact how we as individuals become who we become?

To articulate what I mean, here’s a few examples of who knows juicy stuff about us…

Google and our internet browser knows us

Many of us now have Google accounts, or at least a Google cookie sitting in our cache, collecting information on our search habits under the guise of ‘using these learning’s to deliver more relevant content’. At work, at home, on our mobile. Many of us use Gmail, have connected analytics accounts, have started storing docs online, store our contacts in the cloud and may even have a Google+ account. Have you ever considered that Google even knows what adult content you’re into? That’s the same Google that knows where you work.

Facebook knows us

Our friends, our friends friends, our likes and their likes and employers, overseas trips, the school we went to and all of our check-ins and various other website sign-ins since the day we initiated a profile.

Email knows us

Our email accounts are full of organisations that know us. There are few non-segmented emails that hit our accounts these days. We’ve been categorised and generalised and targeted accordingly. This might be based on actual transaction data online or instore – or it might just be what we’ve clicked within previous emails.

eBay & Paypal know us

What you’ve bought, what you’ve sold, what you’ve searched, what you’ve watched, even who you bank with.

Even our supermarkets know us

What we buy, when we buy, if we have kids, if we’re organic lovers, vegetarian, free-range supporting or meat loving. Where we live, our phone, email and mailing address.

And soon…
Our internet connected TV’s will know what we watch and what we record and what ads we flip away from. Our digital car radios might even know what station we listen to a when… which is an insight into how far we travel each day and where. If we start paying for stuff with our mobile phones someone’s going to know where we shop, when, how much we spend, where we travel, when, why…

Now here’s my point.

What do these organisations do with all this knowledge about what we like? They collect it because it’s worth something to them. It enables them to be more efficient not just in marketing (finding, acquiring, retaining and growing customers), but in almost every business function from finance to merchandise, store operations and even building maintenance.

If everything we are presented is served to us because of what we’ve done in the past – from search results to emails, banners, eBay items, books, news content, holiday destinations and meal recommendations just to name a few – is this good or bad. If we’re only seeing stuff that analytics programs want us to see our minds are limited to only those choices and we’re never going to be exposed to the broader set of options.

Will this not start to dictate our preferences rather than simply leverage an existing preference?

It’s unlikely many of these data sets will ever be matched up because they are the property of the individual businesses and thankfully privacy legislation helps keep our information within those four walls. You can imagine though how powerful this data would become if you started to join up all the dots. These bite sized pieces the puzzle would start to form holistic pictures of who you are in every aspect of life.

More relevant communications are great. I’m served the content that I am more likely to like – no probs.

When though, does all this preferential communication start to heavily steer our preferences rather than just leverage them?