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February 5, 2016
Is Predicting Choice Destroying Consumer Curiosity?
 
In class the other day we started a discussion while looking at a Science Daily article about "information bubbles," when people don't circulate outside their affirmative connections, and how those whom consume news and information via social media have information bubbles that are less diverse than those whom use search engines and other online media.

Then later in the day, we were in the car listening to a podcast about how robots will use take over many tasks that humans do, because robots, in the next 15–20 years, will be more reliable and focused than humans.

Naturally, our mind started to wander about the effects of consumer behavior when marketers take the “big data” provided by consumers, narrow the content, target specific information that the consumer's previous history indicates, and show nothing but those results. Is that really a good thing?

The reason we ask is because humans are naturally curious animals. We ask questions about why things are certain ways, how things work, and explore different concepts. The opening paragraph about information bubbles is a terrifying concept, because it is implying that those with strong information bubbles are refusing to seek out or even recognize ideas that could challenge what they choose to confirm or deny.

So should we as marketers and brands be so quick and so adamant for our AdLand bretheren to create air-tight, predictive behavioral models so we show only what the consumer has told us they wanted to see? Or, should we examine the holistic human and provide a sliver of curiosity; some products and services that don't quite match their expectations or previous visits, but something strikingly different enough to warrant exploring?

As AdLand is still trying to get targeting right in the digital world, we are sure that this type of thinking is pretty far away. But when looking at where the future is going, and seeing the web shrink more and more into niches, it will be harder for brands to introduce consumers to new niches. In the fleeting physical world, we would sometimes just stop in a store we've never been to, just to check it out. Or online, we'd look into an ad for something we'd never heard of, just to see what the company has to say. Now if online, the site I visited is part of some ad-buying platform, it may not have accounted for my curiosity and that online inventory would have been replaced by a brand or industry that is tried and true from my previous history.

Good for business? Sure, at first. Good for growing new business from new customers? Hard to say. Perhaps we are letting this infancy of data analytics blind our critical thinking for the road ahead. Yes, algorithms may be able to change, reacting to the actions of the consumer, so curiosity reigns. If so, then we're not worried.

But if our latest wave of programmatic and RTB of space promotes a “staying of the course” so consumers are stuck with an “affirmation circle” of brands, we all might be in some trouble.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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