I was catching up on my podcasts the other day when one of the marketing gurus
used the phrase “an audience of one.” It resonated with me because it seems a concise expression of everything we’re trying to achieve in marketing and media: reaching exactly the right individual at exactly the right time via the exact channel with the unique message that will get them to use our product or service. The Holy Grail, right?
To a certain extent, search marketing comes closest to that. The user is expressing intent – where can I get a pizza around here? What’s the best replacement hard drive for a PC? We don’t know always know for certain if the search is for themselves or on behalf of another nor do we know where they are in the purchase cycle. On the other hand, when they click on a search ad – not just on a search results listing – my thinking is they’re indicating that they’re nearly ready to buy since one generally conducts research with neutral sources and not something as obviously prejudiced as an ad. Maybe that’s wishful thinking. But whether it’s search or some other form of audience targeting, the ability to gauge intent and anticipate a reply is at the core of digital marketing technology.
I’m raising this today because of the record fine levied against Google yesterday. As you probably know, they were caught bypassing some privacy controls to snoop on iPhone and iPad users. I’m sure in some engineer’s mind, being able to use all the data made available by this tracking would help improve a user’s search experience and bring them (and Google’s advertisers) closer to the nexus of intent and message. But it was, and is, a nasty invasion of privacy.
That issue – how to balance the quest for the audience of one and the rapidly disappearing concept of privacy – is big and getting bigger. I think it may invoke the law of unintended consequences - as we try to make advertising better and more relevant we end up making it less so due to the imposition of strict controls by folks who don’t understand technology. Not only won’t we get to the audience of one but the audiences we currently can distinguish will become less clear. That helps neither the marketers nor the recipients of the messages.