courage can't see around corners but goes around them anyway. ~Mignon McLaughlin

Audience Profiling in the Data Age Still Needs a Human Touch

As a strategist, I’ve spent years in search of insights to get the right products, services and communications to the right people. Surveys, data, ethnography and a host of other tools give us deep insight into what people want. It’s up to us to turn those insights into wonderful things that make life more delightful for people or not…

In the ad world, data science moves us ever closer to precisely targeting specific ads to specific audiences. But consumers tell us they find this bothersome. Dan Plant recently outlined a decent case against tailored ads. I would simply summarise it thus: it’s creepy.

As humans, we’re far more nuanced than our browsing history or where we shop. Data can help, but the influencing factors, which sway our choices when we shop or vote, aren’t always the ones you’ll see at a first glance.

Politics has learned a thing or two from marketing and business strategy, particularly in targeting specific segments of the population with political ideas.

In the run up to the London mayoral election, several political leaflets slipped through our family’s letterbox, but none caused more upset than the conservatives Zac Goldsmith’s, which was clearly targeting South Asian voters. Sadiq Khan, the victorious Labour candidate, is of Pakistani descent. My husband was born in India. The animosity between these two nations is well documented, but playing on this or any other racial or ethnic bias in an attempt to sway votes is distasteful. Public opinion since the election has called it downright unethical.

But it is the issue of being targeted, lumped together with a group of people based on ethnicity rather than experience or ideas, that we found most off-putting. Being targeted along racial and ethnic lines is bothersome if that’s not how you identify yourself. In this case, my husband doesn’t identify himself as just Indian any more than I consider myself just American. As individuals and as a family unit, we consider ourselves a patchwork of cultures and influences, with a few different places we call ‘home’.

In other words, we’re Londoners. We’re a young family. We’re creative professionals. We are much more than where we were born.

If you want people’s attention, don’t identify them and put them in a box of your choosing. Instead, find how they identify themselves.

Even in the data age, it’s skills like empathy, listening and awareness that will help you make real connections.

This post was originally published on Medium


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