Let Us Quantify You

The so-called “quantified self” movement spent a number of years in a backwater of serious geekiness. Log-keepers, obsessive-compulsives and number lovers of all stripes were trying to glean patterns and meaning from their own data trail long before devices made the task not only easier but almost inescapable. But in very short order, data has not only become a meme of business-to-business parlance and marketers. The trend has gone mainstream now, as ever more intimate devices quantify aspects of our existence whether we ask them to or not. Every Web page now tells us how many other people are sharing this article -- because somehow it isn’t enough that you are interested in it. I have Yahoo and Daily Beast news apps that try to gamify my interactions with them and show me how many stories I have read or skipped. I didn’t know I was supposed to keep score.

I kid because I love these sometimes-silly attempts to take the data users are casting off and actually make it meaningful to them. This is something all data gatherers should be heeding.



The first stages of the data governance and privacy debates focused on the narrow, albeit important, terrain of personal privacy and security. A next, even-more-interesting phase may involve ordinary consumers figuring out for themselves what to do with the very same data third parties are collecting. What if the conversation between consumer and brand regarding data moved from simple questions of ownership and control toward more creative uses of the data on the consumer’s behalf? If I am going to give you all of this intimate data about my online and offline activities, how can you make it work to my benefit? And just so you know, “serving more relevant offers and advertising” is not the right answer.

The “Higi” health monitoring kiosk is probably not the right answer, either. But this quantified self project is interesting directionally. It suggests how we need to think about data as media, as service, and as an opportunity for marketing via a demonstrable value exchange.

The Higi, as highlighted by partner IPG Media Lab, is a sit-down kiosk that likely sits within a pharmacy section. It delivers a range of personal health info, from weight to blood pressure, and renders a score indicating general health. But this is only the beginning. You also can start an account that lets you regularly recheck your health scores and use a mobile app for incremental updates and more detailed personal reporting.

IPG Media Lab says this provides a simple media opportunity: two screens that can deliver video ads to both the user of the device and passersby. The kiosk also includes a printer that spews out coupons personalized to the customer.

OK, yeah. Sure. But in the end, marketers that consumers let in to their intimate health information are going to have to give back with more than ad pods and coupons. The real potential for this kind of personal data is to craft data sets that help people improve their lives.

I fear that marketers don’t really get this concept about the device revolution. Marketers see these devices as the screen where people need to be intercepted. But the underlying meaning people attach to these devices more closely resembles automobiles than another media screen. Empowerment, control, freedom, mastery of space: all are values we invest into devices. That's why the quantifiable self is being accelerated by handsets and wearables.

Think about how the data and these screens can amplify and enhance the reasons we love the devices in the first place, rather than plotting new ways to derail us from the experiences we seek.  

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