While far from a bona-fide conspiracy theorist, I have always provided corporations with the minimal amount of personal information possible to complete a transaction due to a minor fear of nefarious intentions. Does Crest really need to know my income level, favorite activities and age when asking how I like their toothpaste? Yesterday however, I did something uncharacteristic: I provided a travel company with a list of every city I’ve visited in the last ten or so years (at least that I could remember).
I’ve been experimenting with the Facebook service, and while the jury is still out, one interesting feature is a travel map that shows people in your network where you have been, and notes places that you can provide information on. I’ve been to Las Vegas several times so a friend can discover that information, and ask me for lodging tips, while I can find out the best places to visit near Mumbai from someone in my network. Providing information like this brings up two questions central to the burgeoning “social networking” scene: What value do you provide that would entice customers to provide this data, and how do you leverage it once you have acquired it?
The map, provided by TripAdvisor.com and pictured above provides for an immediate “cool factor,” delivering the digital equivalent of the physical map riddled with pushpins, without leaving drywall that looks like Swiss cheese when one wants to move the map. There are literally thousands of other companies clamoring for similarly detailed information, yet they don’t think about the value side of the equation. Demanding that I fill out a six page form to request a marketing brochure, or gain access to detailed product information is an intrusive hassle, but a compelling offering like the travel map makes disclosure of personal information far more palatable.
What will be interesting is noting how TripAdvisor uses the data they now have logged in some dark corner of their servers. A traditional “shotgun” marketing approach would likely be ineffective, while tailoring campaigns to every customer’s unique travel history will take far more planning. With the proverbial keys to the kingdom bestowed upon more and more companies it will be interesting to watch as internet marketing handles this abundance of detailed data. I see the future of social network-driven marketing being more about mass customization than target identification. The marketers that can customize offerings that are compelling and appealing based on what they know about their customers will rule the day, and traditional “generic” offerings will look black and white in a world of color.