Behavioral Targeted Messaging: Shrewd Marketing or Orwellian Nightmare?

Mobile Marketing RequirementsIn the novel 1984, novelist George Orwell predicted a future where the government had complete control over the populace, monitoring their every move through technology. An enduring classic, the book introduced the concept that ”Big Brother is watching you.” In fact, it proved to be such a seminal work that the term ”Orwellian” became synonymous with technologies that are used in such invasive matters of privacy.

Of course, in today’s society we really are in the era of Big Brother, except that the monitoring technology is (or at least supposed to be) designed to protect us, not control us. Opponents of the infamous Patriot Act might disagree but that’s an issue for another day, or blog for that matter”¦

In some cases, marketers have implemented monitoring and tracking ideas that are almost as nefarious as those Orwell wrote in 1984. This has been exacerbated by online technologies. While for the most part, being online is relatively safe, the proliferation of viruses, Trojan horses and other applications designed to extract information about consumers has caused many to be a lot more cautious. Unfortunately for digital marketers, this skittishness is hurting the burgeoning use of what is being called behavioral targeted messaging.

The idea of segmenting marketing messages based on certain criteria is hardly new, but in the past year or so has evolved into a much more sophisticated (and controversial) form of communication. Behavioral targeted messaging is part of the over all shift in digital marketing from primarily a 1 to many towards more precise 1:1 communications, and behavioral targeting was critical step in the transition. Past interactions, search and purchase data are now combined to provide consumers with customized recommendations to keep them engaged with the brand or site.

So what’s the big fuss? Well thanks to fears that Orwell implanted in our society about Big Brother watching us, critics attacked the use of behavioral targeting/tracking as invasions of privacy. There have been cries for the establishment of a Do Not Track policy, which has made digital marketers everywhere shiver with fear. Fortunately, such talk is still just that and nothing has been implemented”¦yet.

In the meantime, major online providers like Google and AOL have pledged to be more transparent with their data collection practices to assuage concerns about such technology. Social networking giant Facebook even completely shelved their highly controversial Beacon feature shortly after launch due to potential privacy issues.

Mobile marketing has also recently come under fire with consumer protection groups. Earlier this month, the Center of Digital Democracy held a town hall meeting with the FTC to protest the use of the geotracking capabilities of mobile phones to send targeted alerts to consumers based on their specific location. Such campaigns, which are collectively known as Location Based Services, are in their infancy here in the States but are commonplace elsewhere in the world. Unfortunately, it’s quite possible mobile marketers will either never get to use true LBS or have to endure some sort of watered down version of it.

In the end, today’s digital marketers need to proceed cautiously with behavioral targeted messaging. While it is clearly the future in terms of offering companies a great and highly effective way to reach their consumers, it is not without its controversy. Better, for the time being, to err on the side of caution rather than be labeled as a new form of Big Brother.

I’ll be back next week but now I have to go see who is watching me”¦

Steve Chipman
COO
Analog thoughts in a digital world

 

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