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Marketing and Privacy Issues

written by MO.com Subject Matter Resource Alan Guinn

With the advent of the Internet and its ability to access information more readily and with more specificity than ever before—and now with the establishment of–and access to, social media– those pesky facts which often were left out of the public eye are now being made “public knowledge” at a speed that only could be imagined five years ago.

I discovered this, personally, when a gentleman with my name was arrested in a neighboring state, and I began receiving notices from acquaintances wanting to know the circumstances of my arrest and pending incarceration! Nothing could be further from the truth, but—hey it was on the internet, so it must be accurate, right?

What I as a marketing expert learned was that public records are open, in most cases, for everyone to see. And let’s get serious. There is no way that you’re going to convince casual acquaintances that you’re innocent–not when it’s on the Internet.

One might think because I teach marketing, and practice marketing for clients every day, that I’d have a broader grasp of the ramifications of this breadth and depth of available information. Well, let me tell you—when you really understand the Internet and the information it holds, the fear you have about being hacked, or of having your identity stolen and used by others is only an infinitesimally small part of how this beast can impact your life.

Let’s just scratch the surface for a moment, shall we?

Marketers can find out the average age and sex of your friends, who your friends are, and how much money you make; they can discover where you live, who you have hired to paint your house, plumb your toilet, or walk your dog. They can even, in many cases, find out what illnesses or injuries your dog has had in his or her lifetime and what type of flea and tick treatments you use for the dog.

If you have a shopper’s card at a grocery store, they can find out what you spend for groceries on a weekly basis, and—yes—what type of bread you buy, whether you prefer Coke or Pepsi, and whether or not you adhere to the US Government’s Planned Guidelines for Daily Food Groups. Think that’s scary? Just wait until the food police come to your door because you haven’t eaten your monthly ration of broccoli! Just joking, sort of. It could happen.

If you have a shopper’s card at a drug store, your entire history of purchases is available for the asking. Taking some type of medication that you’d rather not have the world know about? Sorry, my friend. It’s information available at a price. Your desires are immaterial. The information is available, and someone wants to know about it. On birth control? What kind? How often do you purchase it? Guess what—the Government can even know how often you and a significant other trip the light fantastic.

Don’t want someone to know who you are calling on your cell phone? I’m sorry. Every call, every text, every time you log on to the web—each event is captured in real, living black and white—ready to be printed out and submitted when an Attorney sends a notice of E-Discovery for that lawsuit you’re named in…and whether you’re guilty of anything— or not— you better be able to explain why you called Anna’s House of Pleasure and texted your neighbor down the street, if you’re ever called into court.

What’s more, the local newspaper and television station will be happy to ask you about it, when they file for access under the Freedom of Information Act and have all the facts and listings right there in front of you.

All of this information comes at a cost—and it’s a cost that you, my friend, are paying.

The cost to create the databases of information; the costs of selling and implementing those databases of information—even the “process of processing,” if you’ll pardon the pun, comes down to you. You pay the cost of all the information overload through costs incurred in collection, sales, commissions, assimilation, and putting all this data to work in making costing, pricing, and profit decisions.

Better yet, more and more of us in marketing are finding better and better ways to source out a specific reason for a sales decision. We’re no longer satisfied to influence the decisions you make…we want to tell you what decision to make. That means that we’re looking for ratios, searching for mathematical comparisons based upon demographic and financial models, and targeting if, when, how, and what we need to do to entice you to invest time and money in the group that pays us to tell them when and where they can amass greater sales and profits.

But take heart. We know what you want, and we’re going to offer it to you—at a price you will perceive as a value and will want to pay, because we understand the pricing sensitivity of the goods and services you purchase. Think your gas bill is too high? No problem. We’ll develop a program just for you that ties together your gas purchases at the same price, and offers a value-added component, to boot.

By the way, don’t try to “game” our system. You’ll find a key component is a practical value scale that helps us price our services to our clients in such a way that they not only take what we tell them– as gospel, but they act and react on our every suggestion.

Now. Am I going to say that all this is bad? Of course not. I’m going to say that many of the modern conveniences and opportunities that we enjoy are the result of the decisions made to pursue customers and meet their needs. We need information to create the opportunity. We need the opportunity for us to recognize and create the amenity. These aspects of marketing do make our life better. Just manage them with common sense and recognize what the value of this information is to a marketer.

It’s a brave new world in Marketing.

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