What are companies doing with my data
People are creators. From amazing modern architectural wonders like One World Trade Center or the Shanghai Tower, to impressive works of art created by Michelangelo and Van Gogh, to ever improving modes of transportation cars that drive themselves! People also create data, a lot of data. For example, have you visited a website or searched for anything on Google today? Take a look at your web history from within your browser and you will be astonished at the level of detail that is tracked. Have you ever purchased anything on Amazon, or even viewed something on Amazon? Those suggestions for what you may like to purchase in the future aren’t coincidently accurate. No, they are based upon complex algorithms that track what you search for, what you click, and your purchase behaviors, all of which allow them to profile you, along with other customers, and the more you purchase the more accurate it becomes. Have you driven from your home to work and back with your iPhone in your pocket? Take a look at the Notification Center on your iPhone. If you are at work it will provide you with an estimate of how long it should take you to drive home and it’s calculating it without requiring any input on your part. It knows simply because your phone is always on and tracking where you are, inferring a home address based upon where it is during normal sleeping hours and vice versa for work! Creating data isn’t very hard and not nearly as impressive as building a sky scraper or engineering an automated car. However, the diversity and complexity of the data you create, even in a single day, is intricate and expansive. Almost everything you do digitally is leaving a footprint, and smart businesses are collecting that information.
"Almost everything you do digitally is leaving a footprint, and smart businesses are collecting that information"
What exactly do companies have access to, and how are they gathering it? Most data collection efforts are restricted to the companies’ systems. For example, they would track transactions from their stores, visit patterns on their websites, and demographic data that you have provided or they have appended to your account, all to ensure that the nature of their communication is appropriate for their audience. In the never ending pursuit to gain the “360 degree view of the customer” companies will aggregate, record, and connect information from the data sources they have access to, that is relevant and related to customer behavior and experience, in an attempt to complete the puzzle so that they know how to properly engage with you. In the Sports & Entertainment industry, we track transactional things such as purchases of our tickets, merchandise, and concessions, behavioral things such as website visits, e-mail activity, and application downloads, preferential things such as favorite athletes, restaurants, and leisure activities, and demographic data such as age, gender, and education level, to name a few. Many companies will also spend large amounts of money to verify this information and enhance it from third party data aggregators such as Acxiom, Experian, and Dun & Bradstreet. These data collection efforts are accomplished through various modes. It can be as simple as merely recording transactional behaviors in a database or executing a consumer facing digital survey. Or it can be as complex as inferring preferences based upon previous activities that align closely with other consumers, or tracking wireless devices and their travel patterns.
You may be wondering why a company would want to go to all this trouble or maybe you are thinking why they are being so nosy? In the consumer world this may actually be an instance where this behavior isn’t just a benefit to the company, but may actually be of benefit to you, the consumer, as well. For example, marketers will use this data to provide a customized experience for the consumer. This may include such things as how you are communicated with and the frequency of those communications, the relevancy of the products that are offered to you instead of a constant barrage of communications for products you’d never be interested in, and those surprise and delight moments where you receive a thoughtful gift that is actually something you like! The notion behind coincidental and targeted marketing is that it isn’t so coincidental, but rather based upon a rich history of information, not only of what products you prefer to consume, but of when, why, where, and how you prefer to consume them.
So the next time you are asked to fill out a survey, leave a review, or provide your preferences on a web form, you may want to put your skepticism aside and actually fulfill the request with accurate data. If it is a brand that you have an affinity for, it makes a lot of sense to make sure they really understand you, not for the benefit of the corporation, but for yourself. This will ensure that you get the most out of the relationship so that you receive a unique customized experience that will build anticipation for your next interaction!