Be on your best data behaviour

Consumer pushback against behavioural targeting has at least proven one thing to marketers – that they can not take the data streams generated across the web for granted.

Facebook’s challenges in recent weeks have demonstrated how irate customers can get if they feel a company has pushed the boundaries of privacy too far.

But that does not mean they should assume they will be shut out from this insight either. Much rests on being transparent and persuasive towards consumers to retain their permission.

Examples of how this can be done are starting to emerge. Cineworld’s use of Facebook Share on its website is one way of adding social network information into the single customer view. Film reviews and other content on the cinema chain’s corporate site can be included into social network pages by anybody who feels like sharing it with their friends.

Tagging of the links allows the company to track how that content is distributed. It can then associate it back to people who book tickets via the site. Critically, it also opens up a window on circles of influence. Mobile phone networks already enjoy this insight from calling circles, for example. Other companies can start to level up their knowledge of the customer by using such techniques.

It doesn’t have to stop there – data that can be used for long-term business planning can also be generated from Web 2.0 tools. Amazon’s universal wish list is a great example of this. Download the browser app and then add anything you are browsing anywhere else on the Web to your Amazon list of things you’d like to buy.

That combines convenience for the consumer with a great data stream for the company. It allows the e-tailer insight into buying intentions and other categories of product that its customers are interested in. So decisions about how to extend its departments can be supported by actual data.

The caveat is the sensitivity with which this information is handled. Consumers may feel comfortable using the Amazon wish list as a single reference point for their own plans. Getting an email from the company saying, “you’ve recently been looking at Italian suits, we’ve just added tailoring to our store” could feel intrusive.

Taking care with sensitive personal information is not a new concern, however. Direct marketing has always had to understand the boundaries – direct mail from hotels had better not say, “we hope you enjoyed your stay, Mr and Mrs Reed” in case it was not actually Mrs Reed who visited.

Behavioural targeting can be of great benefit to commerce and consumer. It will only survive, though, if companies are on their best behaviour.

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