To Be Tracked, or Not To Be Tracked?

by Dan Beca, Catalyst

To be tracked, or not to be tracked?
That’s a question consumers will soon face. And it’s a challenge marketers also have to face, whether they like it or not. The growing concern over online privacy is going to result in “do not track” functionality one way or the other. The FTC says we need it, and Congress is holding hearings about it. Whether it‘s implemented at the browser level or through a do not call registry—it’s coming.

At first blush, you have to wonder why any consumer would not choose to opt-out of online tracking. After all, in the offline world you wouldn’t volunteer to have someone follow you around the aisles of your local Walmart® taking notes about which products you were looking at, or following you around town to see what kind of restaurants you liked to eat at. You’d opt out of that in a heartbeat.

So why would consumers choose not to opt-out of tracking online?
In a word, relevancy. If you ask a consumer whether he wanted a company recording his every move on the Internet, chances are you’d get a flat out “NO!” But if you ask a New York Yankees fan whether he wants to see ads about ballet or baseball, chances are he’s going to say “baseball!” So what’s the difference? In the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo, we marketers have got some ‘splainin’ to do. Consumers need to understand the whole picture, and we just haven’t been very clear.

Education, transparency and value.
If we want to avoid a mad consumer dash to opt out of online tracking, we must educate consumers about the value of collecting their data. If consumers know the information they volunteer gets them something valuable back–whether it’s coupons for their favorite services, or news about cool new products they’re actually interested in—they’re going to be a lot more likely to offer up that information. In particular, we need to be explicit about how it’s going to be used—privacy is important.

Bottom line: Consumers will get to choose to be tracked or not. As marketers, we can either complain about the door hitting us on the way out…or show consumers the benefit of keeping that door open.

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