Clearly, privacy is a hot button these days and probably always will be. But what is also clear is that many consumers are willing to give up anonymity in exchange for added value, greater convenience, or extra savings. This is especially true in the online world, where most consumers expect their browsing history to be tracked, and in return they also expect a high degree of personalization in their online experiences. Further, e-tailers gladly customize the consumer's experience because they know it leads to higher dollar rings and greater sell through.
Moreover, companies like Google use browsing and search history to drive web ads. So if a consumer searches for "vacation packages in Mexico," that consumer will likely start seeing web ads for Mexican travel.
This form of marketing has been well-established in the online world, offering consumers not only personalized marketing content based on who they are, but also contextual content based on what they're doing in that moment.
But what about the offline world? How do marketers acquire the knowledge they need to personalize their marketing content and deliver it at just the right time? The following three companies are leading the way and showing how marketers will soon be able to track and measure their offline consumers like they do their online consumers today.
The first example is a new in-store positioning system developed by Apple called iBeacon, which works with all iPhones running the latest operating system (iOS 7.0+). The iBeacon system is enabled through the use of low-powered transmitters (iBeacons) that pinpoint the location of a consumer to within a few feet. Using these transmitters, retailers build store zones through a process called "geofencing," which allows them to know when a consumer enters and leaves a particular area.
Thus, with iBeacon retailers would know, for example, that a consumer has been studying the detergent shelf for the past five minutes and may need an incentive to close the deal. In this case, the retailer could push a message to the consumer offering them a personalized deal.
While Apple and other companies like shopkick are focused on tracking consumer behavior within a retail store, the Seattle-based startup Placed is taking a different tack: tracking consumers wherever they go physically.
Using the GPS capability built into every smartphone, Placed tracks the movement of its users 24 hours a day. These consumers, who have downloaded the Placed app and answered a set of basic demographic questions, earn prizes while generating a massive trove of data that can be mined for consumer insights. Placed would be able to tell a grocer, for example, which of its demographic groups are more likely to visit external bakeries, natural food stores, and independent florists, helping that grocer understand where it's losing shopper conversion.
Finally, the value of consumer tracking goes well beyond the retail world. Disney, which is reportedly investing a billion dollars in a proprietary consumer tracking system, is a perfect example.
The platform, called MyMagic+, is being tested with consumers now. Guests wear a wristband, which serves as their park pass, their hotel room key, and even as a payment account for goods and services. On top of that, Disney has added a reservation system, allowing guests to reserve a limited number of "must do" activities, which can be rescheduled on the fly through park kiosks or through the "My Disney Experience" mobile app. This app can also be used to make dining reservations and offers real-time queue information.
The benefits to Disney are many. This system reports real-time information on ride demand and usage, food and souvenir consumption, and generally where guests are located in the park, allowing Disney to respond in real time. Guests can also provide Disney with key demographic information like age and gender, giving the company a detailed view of which guests are doing what while enjoying their Disney experience. In return, Disney can continually improve their operations, marketing programs, and selling efforts in the future.
The implications for marketers are several. First, the type of data we've grown accustomed to in the online world -- like customer visits, engagement, and loyalty -- will soon be available in the real world, making it easier to improve customer experiences and increase conversion rates. Second, the era of big data is surely here to stay. If you haven't developed your strategy for leveraging the full power of your data, wait no longer. Finally, now is also the time to begin testing these emerging platforms so that your organization can learn and grow as these technologies evolve.
Robert Eisenbach is the director of brand strategy for Anthem.
On Twitter? Follow Eisenbach at @Anthemww and iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet .