A year ago, I was thrilled to contribute an idea to the wonderful Ideas Project regarding how marketing is changing and this week I’m excited to contribute to the project again with a question of the week. Here’s the question:

Can you describe a future in which you would voluntarily share your personal data online in exchange for truly relevant advertising?

Please go here to register and write a response on the ideas project or Tweet a response with #ideasproject.

Some Background

I’ve spent much of the last year thinking about online advertising and how it’s changing. There is a clear tension between giving consumers information when/where they want it and the need to reach large numbers of consumers. The first approach is in line with what I refer to as Marketing 2.0 and is focused on finding consumers where they self-organize to provide them with useful information that they pass along if they choose to. The latter approach is much more traditional and is focused on reaching as many consumers as possible.

Behavioral targeting sits somewhere between these two approaches and works by planting browser cookies that allow advertisers to follow consumers across the web in the interest of presenting them with more relevant information. Thus, if you have a cookie in your browser that has tracked you from a car website to a baby products site, you’d be likely to be shown an advertisement for a baby car-seat.

Behavioral targeting does improve ad performance but it’s not super effective because cookies capture everything we look at whether it’s related to work or play. And, if you’re not the only user of a computer they are even less effective. There’s also something sneaky about cookies that consumers don’t like. They are squirreled away in our browsers and the process is not fully transparent. On some level we know that there are companies buying and selling this data and we’re not getting any part of it.

By way of digging into this topic more deeply, I’ve included this short video from the Ideas Project by Andreas Weigend, former Chief Scientist for Amazon. He explains that advertisers have the potential to present consumers with highly relevant information based on access to consumers’ personal data. The challenge is that advertisers will have  to prove to consumers that they can return real value while respecting privacy. This is a huge obstacle because advertising as an industry has overwhelmed consumers with irrelevant and interruptive messages.

While behavioral targeting does offer  advertisers -and consumers- value, because it can help them present consumers with more relevant content, it is very limited as a methodology. Therefore, it’s unlikely that this approach will be effective at convincing consumers to voluntarily share their personal data in exchange for truly relevant content. Somehow advertisers need to convince consumer to share more/better personal data and then advertisers have to use this information respectfully/appropriately to return real value. Can you imagine how that might work?

Would it require a third party service where you tell advertisers the kinds of things you’re interested in? An improved “advertiser” setting area inside you Facebook account? Something that you set in your browser? Or, something else? I’d be thrilled to hear your ideas so please visit the Ideas Project and post them to the community or Tweet your response using hash tag #ideasproject.

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