How The Information Age Became a Marketer’s Dream Come True

Remember when advertising was only commercials, billboards, and radio? When print media was only magazines & newspapers? When companies hired ad agencies to create beautiful work but agencies shrugged when the client asked, “so what’s my return on investment?”

We talk a lot about how much the world has changed the past 30 years, but nothing has been revolutionized more than marketing.

Advertising used to have a “shotgun” approach because there was no “impressions” to track. Put a billboard up and hope it increases sales. Sure you could do a statistical sample of the population or focus group, but those were mere anecdotes & estimates.

But through the introduction of the Internet, new marketing channels have introduced real-time, detail-rich ways to measure reach and in turn, ROI. Shotgun approach has become “sniper” approach.

Don’t believe me? Google has algorithms that push relevant content depending on past searches; Facebook harvests user-generated content that tells so much about your interests, any company would pay millions, maybe billions, to acquire that data; websites have “GPS-esq” trackers where once you visit their domain, they’ll push content to you well after you’ve left; YouTube videos, banner ads, and emails just to name a few; and Foursquare lets you “check-in” to locations, telling companies exactly where you’re willing to spend time & money. The list goes on.

Willingly we post this personal info, and marketers devour it.

But how do they do it? Analytics. Early on in the Internet, someone asked, “can we use this to measure the success of products, services, or content?” The answer was a resilient “yes” and now we see why.

If I launched a website, some of the simple things I could track would be:

  • Unique visitors
  • Repeat visitors
  • Browse time
  • Heat-mapping (i.e. where & how long you look on parts of the page)
  • Where the visitor came from
  • The chain of products, pages, or articles they engaged with

And so much more. The moment the visitor inquires with their email (ex. signs ups to get more info, to be on the mailing list, or receive a special offer) a new dimension unlocks and a more detailed form of analytics can be mined. Now instead of general info being sourced (i.e. they fall into a “customer segment” with specific demographic, geographic, and psychographic assumptions), specific information becomes available: their full name tells a marketer how to find them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

These social channels introduce a 3rd dimension of analytics, where finally they can predict what you’re likely to purchase, where you shop, and what topics are important to you (ex. if I visit lots of sports blogs and talk about my fantasy football league on Twitter, they can safely assume I like team-embroidered clothing, watch ESPN, love pizza, and am watching Sunday Night Football with my boys).

Marketers are no longer just artists, but scientists. Modern day entrepreneurs and billionaires know this as well as anyone: Jeff Bezos, Travis Kalanick, Mark Zuckerberg, Garrett Camp, Kevin Systrom, and Hiroshi Mikitani  and many more have successfully leveraged one indisputable fact: information is power.


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