The One to Many Dilemma

Posted on October 10, 2008

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For the past few weeks, I've been reading The Numerati, a great book by Stephen Baker about how various organizations (politicians, IBM, grocery chains) are trying to translate humanity into numbers in an attempt at more effective target us and gain an in-depth understanding of why we are the way we are.  Almost everything I do, including writing this blog has me thinking about that book.  As a quick sidenote, I know of people that aren't members of online groups for the sole reason that they want to remain "un-google-able."  Impossible, friends.  Those same people probably don't realize that their supermarket discount card is full of more information about their lifestyle and preferences than my Facebook profile, blog and Twitter feed are about mine.  "Analog" tracking, I suppose is ok with them.

The other thing I've been thinking about (for clients and in life) is how to market the same thing to various people.  Here's why it's on my mind:

  • Caltrain derailed: On Monday, my train was in an accident on the way to work.  I ended up sharing a cab for the remainder of the trip with 4 very nice San Franciscans commuting to the same Pennisula city.  In the car were an engineer for Tyco, a history teacher, an english teacher and a voice systems contractor for Sun (it was a long drive, we had a lot of time), and me.  So, how does an organization like Caltrain target us all effectively?  Further, 4/5 people in the car bike on one end of the train or the other – meaning we're also being targeted by bike and bike services companies.  But we're all so different.  I don't care about the same things as the teachers, or do I?  So, do companies like Caltrain and bike shops need to adjust their messages or can they blast us all with the same ads and communications efforts?  The whole experience was fascinating because you spend so much time keeping an appropriate distance from people and wondering who they are… and I found myself basically on the lap of someone I'd never met on the way to work – happy Monday.
  • iPhone officially hits the mainstream: My mom (hi mom ;)) got an iPhone this week.  That's right, the woman who calls me to walk her complicated Web sites bought an iPhone.  She also got a GMAIL account and learned to text message.  She even comments on this blog.  She's so hip!  First of all, this raises the question, how did Apple talk her into that?  Was it all the "I'm a Mac" commercials or in fact, did I talk her into it by showing her all the fancy things my phone can do?  Either way, there's now an arsenal of accessories manufacturers and app developers that are targeting both me and my mom.  Two very different people with very different needs for our phones – how will they lure us both in?
  • Political showdown: There are countless videos out there, so I'll just share this one.  Politicians have hundreds (maybe thousands) of people working behind the scenes to target every one of us over the age of 18.  As Stephen points out in his book, some of us are hotter commodities than others, but the idea is that both McCain and Obama want me to vote for them.  And they want all of my friends and family (especially the Coloradoans) to do the same.  How are they going to reach us when we're undoubtedly divided over hot issues and separated by geography – even if it's just a sidewalk that's the barrier?  The video below is still astonishing to me.  I can't believe that people still stand in the street and yell at each other over politics.  But it's telling that people latch onto one single message and make that their decision platform.

Being a marketer today is full of questions.  We're at a very cool time and place in history where the things people (and massive computers) are learning around us, and uncovering about us are expanding exponentially.  Watching the world of marketing evolve is a little like watching kids grow up. 

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