Commentary

Hey Advertisers: Want To Know What Consumers Like? Just Ask.

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica data breach and the resulting media frenzy prompted many users to crack open their Facebook settings to try to understand exactly what it all means. What personal data was there to be compromised in the breach? As a result, old news became new again as the Internet reminded everyone that Facebook consumes and digests people’s activity on the platform to deduce their political affinity, among many other ad targeting attributes. This isn’t a new feature on Facebook, of course. But when the public disturbance over it goes viral, it’s news all the same. 

The newfound public interest in firms’ data collection practices has actually been a boon to data companies that do things differently. Those that are transparent about the ways in which they obtain consumer data and, even more so, those that work directly with consumers to round out their profiles are seeing an influx of interest in their unique data capabilities. These companies — ones like TapResearch and Jebbit, which brilliantly coined the term “declared data” — are built around a principle that’s brilliant in its simplicity.

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Want to know what consumers prefer? Just ask.

Just. Ask.

All the Facebook-induced turmoil has many data players in the advertising space — those operating outside of the declared data realm — keeping quiet for the moment. After all, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica aren’t the only companies out there that know more about consumers than consumers think they do. There’s a general unspoken consensus that if no one makes any sudden moves, all of this scrutiny of industry practices will fade into yesterday’s headlines.

But a tipping point has been reached, and consumers are tired. People want to know what companies know about them. They want to know what’s being done with that information. 

It seems almost absurd that an entire industry has sprung up around a process of glorified guesswork. Advertisers love guessing. They love leering at consumers around corners, with cameras, and using trackers online. They love guessing and making complex statistical models to group and assume profile data about consumers. But with modern media like mobile, there are new interaction rules. You are actually allowed to ask. And consumers want to answer — so long as you’re polite, rewarding and bring value to them.

Consumers are more than happy to answer questions about themselves when they know who’s asking and why. Many companies are just afraid to ask. It’s like being at a bar and never having a conversation with anyone to see if they’re single and interested in getting to know you. Instead, you just sit there by yourself and make observations, never engaging to see if your assumptions are correct. Why not just ask? 

In the mobile world, “asking” can take any number of shapes. Polls, (short) surveys, quizzes, gamification — the list goes on. The important part is that marketers and data firms look to create a clear, obvious value exchange. The stakes don’t have to be high to find a willing audience. And the beauty of it is that the data obtained through such a value exchange is real. It’s meaningful. And when that information is used at a later date to better communicate with an individual, they’re not going to wonder how it was obtained. 

Cambridge Analytica and the subsequent fallout is yielding many lessons for the ad industry. One of the biggest is a lesson everyone should have known all along. If you want to know something about someone, just ask.

1 comment about "Hey Advertisers: Want To Know What Consumers Like? Just Ask.".
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  1. Ron Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, May 21, 2018 at 12:10 p.m.

    Brian is right. Unfortunately, most marketers don't seem to understand or have confidence in survey research and how to analyze it. 

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