The Fact That You Can Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You Should

melissaparrishupdated“Marketer’s Note” is a regular column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem.

This week it is written by Melissa Parrish, Executive Director, AdExchanger Research.

A handful of years ago, I moderated a panel about mobile technology and privacy for the Churchill Club. One of the panelists explained the data collection issue in a way that’s stuck with me all this time as much for its clarity as for its continued relevance.

Imagine, she said, that you download a weather application. In order to give you the weather in the most seamless way possible, it needs to access your location – that’s obvious and immediately understandable. Now imagine that that same app requires access to your contact list. Why would the app need that?

The answer, she supposed, was twofold: either for marketing purposes, or for features that the app may consider rolling out later that weren’t immediately apparent. Either way, the two types of data they wanted to collect had very different motivations. Collecting location info made the app work better and more accurately in the service of the user who downloaded it. Collecting the contact list benefited only the marketer and application developer.

I was thinking about this recently because of a comment from an attendee of our Clean Ads I/O event who said that she loved the content – except for the sessions about the consumer point of view, which she felt was a bit off-topic for a conference about advertising.

I understood that she was trying to articulate a preference toward more technical content, but inside I just kept thinking: off-topic? Is there any kind of advertising that’s not intended to reach a consumer?

It seems to me that one of the reasons it’s so easy for us to put the blinders on when we’re considering the data we want to collect, or to not talk frankly about consumers when we talk about advertising, is that we think of them as consumers or customers. These living, breathing humans who we hope will take some action and interact or transact with our companies are reduced to an impersonal noun that reflects only their position in the commercial value chain.

When we use that kind of language, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re putting our audience’s needs first, when we’re really just sticking to our same old company-focused strategies. One ad tech firm I spoke with several months ago told me that they were completely customer-centric because they could find individuals wherever they were and make sure they were seeing the same message in multiple places. That’s not customer-centricity; that’s user ID-centricity.

What would happen if we all made a concerted effort to talk about the people we’re targeting and transacting with as just that: people? Not copyrightable phrases like people-based marketing, though that is a step in the right direction. Just people – who have wants, needs, concerns, voices and, yes, power. People who we can help and delight and listen to as we make our products and services better. Maybe then it wouldn’t be so hard to strike a balance between what they want and what we want. Maybe then we would be more focused on what we should do rather than what we can do.

–Andy Rooney, d/b/a Melissa

Follow Melissa Parrish (@MelissaRParrish) and AdExchanger Research (@AdExchangerRsch) on Twitter.

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