When a large US retail chain sent an American teenager a maternity catalogue several years ago, her father was outraged. Was the retailer trying to encourage his daughter to get pregnant, the dad fumed? No. The company had deduced something the teenager’s father hadn’t. Based on mathematical analysis of household shopping patterns, the retailer had decided it was more than likely that the man’s daughter was already pregnant and had targeted their marketing accordingly.
Today, businesses can find themselves swimming in data. The world of marketing is now a game for maths majors, not the kind of ad suits made famous by US TV series Mad Men. Big data and its mathematical analysis have become key to modern business practise.
This means that customers’ future product preferences, where they want to shop and even the people in their lives that most influence their purchasing decisions are all detectable by the data-savvy retailer. Some of the most sophisticated businesses in this game are online retailers. Companies like TradeMe must react to their customer’s browsing in real time to secure that purchase or trade.
In this environment, marketing must be instantaneous and perfectly targeted. That’s why the computational firepower used by Amazon’s analytics department humbles that of any university or government research organisation. The widespread popularity of social media has also complicated matters for marketers. Get that tweet right and your customers will spread your message far and wide; get it wrong and the backlash will travel even faster.
What will you do in 2023 when big data becomes available to you? Google and the world wide web have opened up much of the world’s data to the public, but the tools and software to draw inferences from this are not yet widely available.
When these tools do become available you will be able to assess the state of repair and value of a house before you talk to a real estate agent or hire a building inspector. You will also be able to find out who your new neighbours are and what they are like before they move in without having to resort to the time honoured method of delivering a casserole to the front door.
Will we feel more alone and isolated in this world or will trust develop as a result of this greater openness?