How big data is changing marketing practices and possibilities

Innovations in technology, algorithms, and internet-driven shopping and media have meant major changes for the way marketers do business.

Innovations in technology, algorithms, and internet-driven shopping and media have meant major changes for the way marketers do business.

Once, the straightforward goal of marketing was to introduce potential customers to a product and then convince them to buy it.

Today, marketers focus on narrowing down a field of likely purchasers, then selling them products they may not even be aware they want. By using computer-driven  profiles, built on collections of purchase histories, browsing trends, and lifestyle changes, companies know their customers better than they know themselves.

Marketing today is not necessarily any different from the past when it comes to motivations – companies are still looking to sell specific goods to certain consumers.  The biggest shift is in the method. Technology makes the identification of potential buyers
a much more precise science.

“We are  in the middle of one of the most dramatic shifts in the history of the communications landscape,” Jeff Dachis, CEO of data management firm Dachis Group, told Business Insider.

Customers online are some of the easiest to target, Dachis says, since the nature of social networks and most online interactions is to share information. Corporations that are savvy enough to set up their own profiles and offer social network-exclusive discounts and offers are often richly rewarded with extensive information about customers’ personal lives, likes and dislikes, and even buying histories.

Internet-based retailers are also profiting by tracking customers’ web browsing history, and serving up ads and offers according to assumed interests. According to The Wall Street Journal, one of the fastest-growing businesses online is, simply, “spying on users".
“Advertisers once primarily bought ads on specific web pages – a car ad on a car site. Now, advertisers are paying a premium to follow people around the internet, wherever  they go, with highly specific marketing messages".

Some of this tracking is done by retailers and advertisers themselves, but much is done by third-party middlemen: companies existing solely to profile internet users, then sell their composites to marketers looking for customers within a certain  demographic.

Things are even changing offline. Grocery store loyalty cards, department store purchase histories, and the rise of extensive customer service databases are all means  of silently tracking and profiling customers. Many of the mailers customers receive, either over e-mail or in their mailboxes, are far from random, with coupons and ads selected specifically for the recipient’s perceived tastes.

These sorts of practices are happening all over the connected world. New Zealand, whose population is nearly entirely online and whose technology infrastructure is largely new, is quickly emerging as a goldmine of data-driven marketing possibilities. New Zealand is fast developing its own big data marketing teams, and in many respects is on the cutting  edge of digital consumer-targeting campaigns.

Online marketing is one of the fastest growing industries. Video marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and social media campaigns are usually at the top of the list, with companies like Auckland-based Pure SEO leading the way in new innovations.

“SEO is in its infancy in New Zealand; therefore, it is far easier to get good rankings—not to mention a competitive advantage—in a far shorter space of time than would be possible in the UK or America, where the majority of companies have already implemented SEO campaigns,” Pure SEO says on its website. The company focuses on helping businesses make use of Internet search technology to maximise their exposure to certain,  targeted customers, and to catch up with competition abroad.

Ogilvy & Mather, a New Zealand marketing firm, is another example of Kiwi innovation when it comes to making use of technology-driven big data. In 2009, the firm launched a data amalgamation program, RedBox, that has been instrumental in
helping companies target local customers.

“RedBox makes it easier than ever for marketers to run a customer database, send targeted communications, discover powerful insights and, most of all, drive incremental  sales and loyalty,” Ogilvy & Mather said shortly after the tool was developed. “No other ad agency has a database marketing solution this comprehensive.”

In New Zealand and around the world, tracking technology is changing the way companies do business. Customers are no longer just customers: they are unique combinations of data that can be understood and manipulated, within certain parameters. So far, the results have been generally positive. Companies are tracking higher sales, and customers are more easily able to locate products that they either need or are searching for.

 Like most things connected to technology, though, the future is all but unknown. As things continue to change with internet capabilities and computer programming, the the extent and breadth of profiles in the future could become staggering indeed.

 Samantha Porter is a marketing expert who writes for an online resource where students and professionals can learn more about this field, including where to get graduate degrees in marketing

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