Mass marketing is going the way of the town crier. Demographics, impressions and hit rates are fast becoming anachronisms, and current technology is hard at work leading us there. How? By moving away from the centrality of the mass and toward the singularity of the individual.
This theoretical construct contradicts the underpinnings of modern marketing since it came of age in the 60’s. Most notably, Madison Avenue was built on casting as wide a net as possible, based on the premise that perception operated on a group level and that the market could be bifurcated into large segments that thought, felt and acted essentially the same within the context of a group dynamic.
With the advance of more sophisticated demographics, the definition of the groups became more nuanced. Groups were separated by location, occupation, income, age, marital status, among a host of others. The objective was to consolidate these parameters into a more nuanced representation of group attributes and behavioral proclivities. Eventually, the concept of personalization was introduced in an effort to make the buying experience more “personal.” While this brought about a new level of customization, it was still dependent on group classifications, utilizing the same structural model.
What then is causing the seismic shift from group identification to individualized 1:1 communication? The answer is simple: a body of data big and sophisticated enough to enable forward-leaning marketers to migrate from a demographic to a historical architecture. Its roots go back to the transition from analog to digital modality, which was not fully appreciated at the time. What the marketing world did not understand then was that the chief advantage of digital media was not the ability to deliver content in new and exciting ways, but to track, amalgamate and synthesize behavioral data on the back end in a way never before possible.
Taken to the nth degree today, every keystroke, location and interaction a single individual has initiated can now be recorded, analyzed and transformed into a definitional framework for that individual. Every place s/he has gone, the subject and result of every online search, every monetary transaction, are all both available and actionable.
Even several years ago, if a person driving along the highway stopping to get a quick snack, his/her significant other sitting at a computer paying bills online at home could instantly see the time of the transaction, the amount tendered, and where the store was located. From there, a quick exercise in GPS mapping could render an ETA home.
Some would have it that privacy issues will prevent such pervasive use of such information. But that is an anachronistic view at best. The classic dystopian view of technology we have harbored throughout the modern age is being constantly being debunked. Mobile devices were supposed to come with an assortment of ills, but like the employment of big data in the service of individualized marketing, they were destined to entirely re-shape how we advertise, promote and sell virtually any product on earth.
Thus, to say we will not use individualized, historically-informed marketing, let alone extend it to a level beyond anything imaginable today, is hardly likely. The reality is that, for marketing purposes, group-based classifications offer only target approximation. But history-based individualization provides exactitude of an unprecedented order because it’s based on a trail of activities as discreet and individualized as a fingerprint.
Recently in an interview on 60 Minutes, Brad Parscale, Digital Director of the 2016 Trump campaign said, “the Trump campaign used the (digital) technology to micro-target on a scale never seen before, and to customize their ads for individual voters.” Facebook,” he revealed, “was able to teach the Trump campaign workers how to target as specific as 15 folks in the panhandle of Florida. The campaign would average 50 to 60,000 different ad versions every day, some days peaking at 100,000 separate iterations, changing design, colors, backgrounds, and words, all in an effort to refine ads and engage users.”
More divided than at any since time since the Civil War, we need to focus on the most important facet of the human race, the individual.
According to Parscale, there is significant irony in the fact that the people who created such social media tools were predominantly liberals who did what they did based on the underlying assumption that the endgame was simple connectivity, and through that, mass empowerment.
Unfortunately, that has not turned out not to be the case. Here in the U.S., we are arguably more divided than at any since time since the Civil War. But the even greater irony is that it has fallen to an arch-conservative to lead the way in transforming the marketing world by facilitating a conversation not with the many, or even the few, but the most important element on the human landscape, the single individual.