When Marketing & Data Reach Singularity

Jacob Brain


I foresee a future that is not far away. A future when marketing grasps the mountains of data being collected and acts upon them. Results may vary.

Drowning in Data, Starving for Insight

Sitting on my porch in this sweet spring afternoon in 2019, I’m creating data at a rapid pace. I have a few browser windows open, I’m connected to the internet, I’ve got a fitness tracker on, and I’ve probably committed at least three scores of Google searches today alone. Data is accumulating with every move I make, and the myriad of devices and people that I’ve interacted with are in the same situation.

It’s a simple fact that by existing in this day and age in a digital world, you are creating data points. And not just a few, but many data points. Thousands of them every day.

What is most compelling about the last decade is that the data isn’t just being generated online, but is being collected more and more from our offline environments. Fitness trackers, smart homes, voice devices, etc. are all driving the data expansion into our worlds away from the screens – even if the time we spend away from them amounts to less and less each year. Throw in the growing wave of IoT devices and soon we’ll reach a threshold of personal experiential data that enables the richest targeting available, yet goes far beyond a blurred line of privacy.

Privacy, Data, and Lost Worldview

We can not discuss the idea of data in this light without yielding a few minutes of the conversation to privacy. It’s un-American to not protect our privacy, even in a digital context. Yet, despite the Orwellian overtones around personal data tracking, most of it is opt-in data. We’re volunteering our data by signing the terms of use on those pesky little screens where we have to hit “Okay, I agree” to get to the good stuff. You’ve done it to yourself, unwittingly or not.

So as GDPR and CA privacy concerns reach a groundswell of activism, we must take a step back to understand what the pros and cons of this data use are.

As a marketer and real human being (a combo rarely found), I support a data control policy that empowers the user to dictate how their personal data is managed and shared. Yet, I also understand that nothing comes for free. And if I sign up to use a free service like Gmail, I should not be bothered by the fact that they’re reading my emails.

But you’re not just signing up for Gmail; you’re using an untold number of products and services that operate under similar contexts. And as the amount of data that we generate continues to stockpile into never before seen amounts, the growing concerns around what we doing with it, how it is handled, and what to do next should be on the national conscience.

I mean come on, even your smart TV is spying on you. Oh, you think that the price tag is just a factor of mass production? Data is the new currency, and whoever capitalizes on the most data will win.

But what this highlights is a bigger problem in our world views: a generation is upon us that inherently trusts the web. The companies around the internet have done a great job to change the internet’s inherent trust factor over the past 15-20 years, and now we enter a time when the net can do no evil. Yet it does – Every day. Hackers take down sites and steal data. Money is stolen from credit cards. Identities are stolen. No, evil doesn’t have a new name, but it has another medium to wrap its deceptive fingers around. Where trust grows, so does the attractiveness of envy. Those that work to malign the trust that exists aren’t far behind.

What comes into view is a picture of the web that looks less like a network of connected machines and more like a community of connected people. Some people you want in the community, some you want out. And if there is one thing that does not work in a real life community, it’s anonymity. Data on who is in the community is needed, and data on what is done in the community is needed as well. We will never reach the right mix; it will always be a tension to manage, and more data will be collected than you are comfortable with. This also means that someone needs to be overseeing this, and it should not be the government.

Data is like currency – value in the most abstracted sense.

But before we dive into an utterly inescapable rabbit hole, we’ll return again to the premise: data and marketing.

Service or Invasion?

The greatest amount of service can happen in our greatest areas of need.

Imagine if you had just had a horrible meeting at the end of the day, and you were running late to pick up dinner for your family.

Suddenly, at that exact moment, a very specialized coupon for your family’s favorite restaurant was sent to your phone – with free delivery. Would that not be amazing?

It would also only be possible thanks to the immense amount of data flowing from your devices and accounts into the marketing hub for that restaurant.

Your heart rate monitor knows that you’ve been stressed out, which triggers an event. Synced with your calendar and time of day, an algorithm easily predicts your next priority. Your shopping history shows your proclivity for your favorite restaurant and reveals your favorite orders. Your carrier sends that all to you at the right time.

That is a marketing dream, and, frankly, it’s not very far off from happening. The biggest challenge right now is access to data and the integration of the data. But as you can sense from the example, the achievement of this scenario no longer seems like science fiction, it seems like science friction – and the lubricant is simply a matter of time.

This example could be perpetuated in hundreds of different ways with even more data points and figures to show. What we’re talking about is a world harmoniously integrated to available data, where data serves you in the ways that the tech giants have been promising for years.

Alas, we can not forget about the shadow: that with this power will also come corruption. The power of data will breed misuse, be taken advantage of, and ultimately be used to hurt us, as well. Imagine vacation posts on social media and scheduling apps like Google calendar integrated with home address data to create a “Rob Me Now” website. Yes, there will be evil. The question, I guess, is: is it worth it?

Preparing for Now

There is no future, only now. Now moves at a pace where the future, if forecasted, only becomes the past too quickly. We must look to now (and a very short window ahead) to validate what we think and act on what is going to happen.

The trusting generation will take this data depth to heart. They’ll be some of the first people to engage in such a data-integrated life. Others will hold back. The benefits will seem nominal at first, then greater as time goes on. Soon the majority will start to move toward the practice.

We will also see revolt against it. Large sections of people will prefer to go off-grid in another sense. They’ll go off-network, and live a simpler, less-integrated life.

As you start to see your path, think deeply. Our next 10 years will be greatly impacted by this decision. It will only become harder, and the stakes greater.

Choose wisely.

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