Modern Targeting Still Needs Human Insights

A few years ago, the promise of big data seemed infinite. Recent privacy meltdowns at Facebook and Google, however, have brought many of those notions crashing back down to earth. Unfortunately, some branding professionals in the world haven’t been keeping up with this new reality, and as a result you have to be careful who you listen to.

It’s not uncommon for us to hear about national providers of marketing automation (buzzword alert!) making claims that aren’t just incredible, they’re impossible. One of the most enticing is that they can identify everyone who visits your website. Long the holy grail of any company with a web presence, this seems entirely possible using modern technology.

But it’s not. At least not reliably.

Remember Nielsen Ratings for TV shows back in the day? You would get up in the morning and hear that Friends had reached 52 million viewers the night before. Did Nielsen ask 52 million people what they watched on TV the night before? No. They asked a tiny percentage of those people and then made some educated guesses to extrapolate the rest of the data. In other words, we know that a lot of people watched Friends when it was on NBC, but really don’t know how many.

The internet was supposed to remove these “guesses” from the equation, but without hacking people’s personal data it has never reached that potential. Most of the time, the best data that marketing automation companies can access is what ISP a visitor used, some rough geographic information (sometimes) and very infrequently what the domain is from their email address. They may be able to assume a user’s gender based on the websites they have visited, and the same goes for their income. But it’s all just educated guesses. If your spouse asks you to look up a website while you are driving, you throw off the whole system.

In other words, once you sign up to learn the identities of your website visitors via IP retargeting or marketing automation, you very seldom receive real names of real people. Instead you get results like “Verizon user in Colorado.” A huge win would be something like “user from the Syracuse University,” but the truth is you won’t learn much more than that. And what good does that do you? Syracuse University has about 15,000 students and about 5,000 employees. Which of those 20,000 folks visited your site? It’s pretty much impossible to say with any certainty.

Now the good news. Human intelligence can still make modern technology do some amazing things. You may not be able to get everybody’s cell phone number when they walk into a trade show (contrary to what some companies will tell you), but you can geofence a digital ad so that when trade show attendees Google that Polynesian restaurant they’ve heard so much about, they see an ad for your product. We do that all the time here at Anchor, and we can help you, too.

The key is to start with strategy first. Unlike marketing automation companies, Anchor starts by understanding your customers, your competitors and your employees. We’re not tied to any single tactic because we want to be able to use any tactic to build your brand. We might even help you with IP retargeting – as long as it makes sense strategically.

If you hear something from a marketing automation company that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Feel free to give me a call if you want to talk about it. Here at Anchor, we study new branding trends as they emerge and very often I will have some experience with the tactic you are dealing with. If we work together, I’m certain that we can make the promise of this technology into something that grows your brand.