If you think Google and other websites know a lot about consumers now, wait until a few years from now.
It's fair to say that, almost 13 years into the 21st century, that targeted marketing tactics are pretty sophisticated.
Consider what happened to me the other day. I was chatting with a friend at a coffee shop about how I was borrowing a Winnebago Via for a summer trip and that the RV uses a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter engine. I mentioned that the engine was a major step up in quality and gas mileage, and would probably provide some extra pep for climbing steep inclines.
When I got back to the office, I popped up a few news sites and, rather shockingly, saw a few ads for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Does Google now hear and see all? Not quite--I had researched the vehicle a day earlier, so Google likely tracked my searches and served me related ads.
But if companies can target consumers that way now, how will they do it in, say, 2025? What will Google know then? Here's my list of predictions:
1. They will track analog identity.
One thing is clear: Marketing will move out of the digital age back into the analog. Chris Anderson--the editor of Wired magazine, not the guy who runs the TED conferences--wrote a book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price a few years ago, and he spent a fair portion of the book comparing digital bits to physical atoms. I suspect marketing will figure out how to blend the two more effectively. Say I'm sitting at the coffee shop. Google might figure out how to capture what I say (maybe my entry into the coffee shop will serve as my agreement to the terms and conditions) and serve me related ads later. Maybe Kohls will work with Starbucks and track when my shirts get a bid faded, and start pitching me on similar attire.
2. They will predict preferences.
Another groundbreaking book, out this year, is called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. The authors explain how Target can correlate the buying habits of shoppers and then target them with relative ads. The example they studied is when a woman starts buying products because she is pregnant. I think this will evolve even more by 2025. Say you walk into your local dealership to buy a Volkswagen. Maybe the sales clerk will be able to look you up on a computer and see that you normally like a blue interior and will want the five passenger since you have three kids. Or maybe that vehicle will be the one sitting out in the lot, because Volkswagen already knows you have been looking online for a new car, recently secured a bank loan, and have the day off.
3. They will customize for DNA.
I'm going to reference yet another book here. There's a fascinating account of how our brains work in Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman, also out this year. The author explains one interesting detail among many: that some women (not men) can perceive certain colors and that's why they are probably better at decorating a room or choosing paint. They literally see a wider spectrum than the rest of us. By 2025, I think marketers will figure out how to take advantage of this. Maybe they will correlate how you have an introverted personality and frequently listen to techno music. The commercials you see on television--which itself will morph into something we barely recognize today--might be highly programmed just for how your brain works and how you perceive things.
4. They will tap into even deeper urges.
I've been fascinated by penny auction sites like QuiBids.com lately... not fascinated enough to get hooked on them, but enough to be amazed at how effective they can be. Gambling sites already tap into a deep desire, but penny auction sites go even deeper: They use fake money (one penny actually equals about 60 cents), play on our love for shiny gadgets like the iPad, and lure us with the hint of a good bargain. Throw in a social component and they become deadly. I was "researching" these sites not long ago and found myself bidding on things like flashlights and staplers. I actually won an auction for a stud finder, even though I have not picked up a hammer in months. By 2025, I think penny auction sites will inspire marketers to find new ways to lure potential customers. They'll reel people in quickly using ads that tap emotions we barely recognize.
Have any predictions of your own? Leave 'em in the comments.