I haven’t done internet dating - my wife wouldn’t approve, I don’t think. But if I did, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to resist embellishing the truth a little. Perhaps knock off a few years, forget I have grey hair, add an inch to my height, and have a slightly more lofty job title.
It’s human nature isn’t it? Always present yourself in the best possible light.
It seems to me that this is happening everyday now on the internet - and it could start causing marketers a few problems. We have known for a long time that there can be differences between claimed behaviour in research and actual behaviour shown through data. Those being researched often don’t even know they are doing it. It’s not mischievous or malicious in any way, it’s just that our self-perception means we often try to appear better (or worse) than we really are. Even when answering a question from a researcher we may never see again.
And now, as social networks mature, people have a fantastic way to portray themselves to the world as they either think they are or as they wish to be seen. So, we have two sets of information at our disposal: the data we already have on our customers and prospects and the freely-available data in the online world where the same people are telling us all about themselves (or at least their version of themselves).
This, then, becomes our challenge for the future. Software businesses are investing heavily in trying to decipher how the masses of information we post about ourselves online can be intelligently analysed. There are companies who claim they can tell us not only what people are saying about brands online, but also the sentiment behind the comments. Others are trying to create tools which can analyse personality types based only on tweets. Others still are looking at stitching together all of your social network profiles and provide one overall “online” view of the customer. All clever stuff, but only valuable if we are able to interpret the findings in a balanced way.
Should we try to benchmark the degree to which there is a disparity between the fact and the fiction and evaluate if it should worry us in our marketing efforts? If we are targeting groups of customers based on what they say online about themselves and it is grossly inaccurate, the marketing spend could be wasted.
There will be different degrees of variance by different audience types. Our own recent research shows that there are very clear types of online consumers in terms of their attitude to the online world - connected, self-serving, considered and practical. But within this there are lifestage and lifestyle factors which have a large influence over how people are likely to portray themselves. In other words, some groups will be more flexible with the truth about who they really are than others.
And I think the future becomes even more challenging. Recent research has shown that 14 - 20-year-olds are increasingly severing themselves from face-to-face relationships in favour of digital relationships. This will increase our difficulties in getting to know the “real” people behind the web façade in order to sell effectively to these emerging audiences.
We will have the tools at our disposal very shortly to harvest all of this data, but the old rules still apply - we have to interpret it correctly in order to get value from it. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Except me. I still look like George Clooney.