You can't always prepare for the consequences of technological advancement, but in the information age, we have the tools to begin to predict the future. There was a time when people largely saw social media as a passing fad, and today it is an established marketing channel. So just imagine what the wearable space will look like in five years. For marketers, this rapid pace of change means loads of customer information will soon be at our fingertips. And when all the pieces come together, you will have a picture of an individual in a very specific context.
Here's the important question: How do we take advantage of this information without alienating our audience? In his keynote presentation at the iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, Texas, Shel Israel, co-author of "Age of Context: Mobile, Sensors, Data and the Future of Privacy," discussed the perfect storm of technology forces that are coming together to change advertising as we know it. Marketers should see what Israel calls "the age of context" as both a danger and an opportunity.
Mobile doesn't just mean cell phones. Wearables can't be ignored, and Israel noted that Microsoft's SenseCam is a wearable device that is worn on a lanyard around your neck and takes pictures continuously every five seconds. It may seem unsettling now, but soon these types of mobile devices will be commonplace.
Social media has matured. Back in 2006 when Israel and Robert Scoble published "Naked Conversations," the thought that social media would change everything was radical, but now social is a mature and instrumental platform.
Sensors are everywhere, from traffic lights to beacons. Regarding beacon technology, Israel remarked that "this is going to fulfill a long-term dream called the 'internet of things.'"
According to Israel, it's not big data that is so important, but rather the small spoonfuls of personal user data that consumers are will to hand over to companies like Google in exchange for useful internet services. There is real dependence at play here that makes users more willing, but that doesn't eliminate privacy concerns.
What makes the next wave of consumer information so revolutionary is that it can deduce intent. "The device in your pocket will know you better than your spouse knows you," Israel explained. Companies will soon know you as well, and they will even predict your next move based on contextual clues.
Rather than using data to blast even more messaging at fatigued consumers, marketers should carefully determine one time and one way to reach out. "Leave them alone the rest of the time," Israel added. Otherwise, the industry could be in trouble. According to a recent study, "Half of digital online ads are never opened by anyone ever," Israel explained. "Where is this headed? Will the little trust that anyone has left in company claims evaporate?"
Israel explained to attendees that he and Scoble had to write about privacy in their latest book even more than they initially wanted to. From Edward Snowden to the Boston Marathon bombing to Wikileaks, "trust just became the elephant in our book," he said. And with devices like Fitbit tracking even your sleep activity, people can hardly escape their own technology. "We should all have the right to turn the damn things off," Israel said. When it comes to personal data, he says the key is that people must have the right to review, correct, and turn off.
When asked about how brands can participate in the wearable space, Israel remarked that the question is whether brands should get involved. "I don't see a reasonable way at this point," he explained. It would be too disruptive to users to be effective. With the delicate balance of data and trust only growing more delicate, marketers are all at risk of alienating their customers. And when they decide a brand can't be trusted, they'll walk.
Chloe Della Costa is an associate editor at iMedia Connection.
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