Using Third-Party Data to Target Customers – Is it that Bad?

February 28, 2011 § Leave a comment


2.28.11  In the last several weeks I have been involved in a series of conversations regarding how firms think about using data to place more relevant messages in front of prospects and customers.

By this I mean, how comfortable are companies with using third-party data sources to influence the messages consumers see. For example, my washing machine broke the other day and I went online to find some information about potential fixes, to see if others are having the same issue, and to hopefully find a solution. Since then, I have had ads from the manufacturer following me across a couple of properties. LinkedIn being the most prevalent.

So what is happening is that LinkedIn is working with DoubleClick to sell its inventory and DoubleClick is working with a third-party data provider like BluKai to see where I have been (for the record this is illustrative not fact). Before LinkedIn serves me an ad, BluKai will automatically “suggest” a specific ad to DoubleClick based on my previous visit history (and everything else they know about me too ).

Now the question is…is this type of targeting appropriate for everyone to do. What data is too much to use? Should some industries be more sensitive than others?

This is where the jury is out. My brief opinion is this:

– Yes, targeting is appropriate. I would rather see a relevant ad than one that is totally random. How much worse is this than a sales person in a store watching your movements and then introducing themselves when you look interested in something?

– Industry sensitivity I think is purely a perception issue. I think industries have to look at the issue as…”if the NYT times reported that a firm used non-personally identifiable information to serve an ad…would anyone care?” Unfortunately, the short-term answer in places like financial services maybe a “yes,” but I think there is a lack of understanding on the data that is used and their control over the “creepiness” factor.

While product companies, publishers, and technology providers alike are trying to work this out, Congress will also be working to create guidelines on what data can be used and how consumers can opt out of this type of targeting. In the meantime, I also believe browsers will provide users with a friendly and intuitive way to adjust settings themselves, therefore providing consumers control. In fact, this will probably happen before Congress acts and implements any law on this.

Any opinions on who should care and why are greatly appreciated. I would also love to hear any opinions on how marketers should consider developing a decision framework around use of third-party data for targeting.

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