Finding Balance – Personalization & Privacy

11th Screen | The Interactive Out-of-Home blog

As marketers and communicators, I think balance is key to so many things we do. I’m going to explore some of those things here, over the coming days. My first post was around the balance between sales & relationships (marketing & communication). Today’s is one of the favorite topics among my colleagues and myself – the balance between personalization and privacy.

One of the common themes here at the 11th Screen is the ability for consumers to connect with each other and the brands they love all the time, especially when they’re out and about, on-the-go. We don’t need physical screens outside of the home (“digital signs”) to deliver messages and enable engagement. The places and things around us have the ability to be turned on and it’s more of an exercise in strategy & creativity (in how to connect consumers) than it is in figuring out technology.

The notion that ┬áthe real and virtual world can be more hyper-connected ┬áthan it is today (which is light years more than it ever has been in the past) is something that is both exciting and scary. It’s exciting because:

  • We can talk to anyone, anytime, on/through multiple devices, and we like this
  • We aren’t confined to a computer screen or a TV screen to connect and engage, and we like this
  • Mobile, to me, is becoming the screen of choice. And it doesn’t have to be a mobile phone – iPad anyone? And this is what we want.
  • We can efficiently fulfill tasks that previously required us to go to a store, stand in lines, and deal with people (see Redbox, or better yet, see Netflix streaming service on your TV), and we like this

We can, essentially, control the terms of engagement with everything and everyone in our lives. While we might have a different level of control placed on friends/family than we do services/brands, the major benefit for all of this is that we’re having to alter our lifestyle less and less. It’s just easy. All of these connections now fit into our crazy, busy, on-the-go lifestyle. (This actually opens up another balancing act, which is disconnecting while always being connected – we’ll get to that in another post.)

From a brand & marketer/communicator standpoint, with this hyper-connection comes the potential to hyper-target. Outside of the computer. It provides the ability to personalize experiences based on past experience, preferences, demographic, and a slew of other personal data. “Right message at the right time” is something that I hear all the time in the digital signage circles. This is not a new concept, but it gets everyone excited with the possibility of truly reaching people with the right message at the right time, regardless of where they are. This is one of the things I find most exciting about the true potential of interactive out-of-home (IOOH). Right now, I think everyone would agree that there’s a lot of noise out there. Even on the web. But certainly when you’re outside of your home. Personalization helps reduce the noise.

But herein is the balancing act – personalization requires consumers loosening their grip on (potentially many) aspects of their privacy. And this is the scary thing about an always-on, hyper-connected world. This has a tendency to freak people out. Rightfully so. There are some creepy things that happen out there on the web and it doesn’t take many stories to scare people into not exploring or completely shutting down. This behavior is counterproductive to the potential of the new out-of-home. If no one will interact with the places and things around us, those places and things will be rendered worthless.

Here’s my take on privacy – if you can experience the benefit of giving up more information about yourself, you’re more likely to, in favor of a better experience. But you’ve got to experience it. And it’s got to benefit you.

I think Facebook and LinkedIn have done a wonderful job of letting people experience the benefits of giving up more of their private information. Facebook makes connections seem seemless, particularly around interests. LinkedIn enables you to connect very specifically with the type of people you want to connect with. Both are more powerful for you with more of your information. This power is in the personalization.

So, does it just boil down to benefit and experience? I’m afraid not. I think we still have a ways to go until giving up more personal information than less is the norm. I think technology will drive a lot of this, as it has in the past few years, but people don’t want to be creeped out. It’s just that simple. They want to feel safe. At the same time, whether or not they can verbalize it, I think they want to reduce the noise.

Transparency always helps. Utilizing systems where people have given personal information (Facebook) is good, too. This enables the experience to be seemless and easy. Education will be critical, especially from all of those involved in the out-of-home channel, because those turned-on-places-and-things-around-us can positively effect our daily lives. It’s going to require personal information, though.

As much as I talk about personalization, it’s important to realize anything can only be made personal through information. And that’s letting go of pieces of privacy. And that’s the balance that we all have to find.

So, that’s my take. What about yours? I’d love to hear it!

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