Digital Footprints: Following the Data Trail

katrina-conn-octDo you know what type of data trail you’re leaving behind, or what your digital footprint says about you?

Just this week, the FX network premiered the third season of American Horror Story: Coven. It’s not rooted in reality, obviously, but Jessica Lange’s character had one line that really resonated in this era of digital trails: “In this day and age of Facebook and Twitter, do you really think that we won’t be persecuted for anything that we do–which will be recorded and uploaded for millions to see?” That question struck me.

We all know that digital footprints are made up of the data left behind by people’s interactions in any kind of digital environment. This includes, but certainly isn’t limited to, the internet, mobile phones, tablets, other connected devices and sensors.

These ‘digital footprints’ include data about what you clicked on, searched for, Liked, where you went, your location, your IP address, what you said, what was said about you and more. The data can and is being used in behavioral and target marketing, personalization, and social media and social graphing.

What can digital footprints tell you?

They help paint the ever-changing contextual state of the consumer, which marketers can then use to identify the preferences, interests and needs of a consumer, in order to deliver relevant content that reaches the consumer at their point of need.

Whether you’re a governor, mayor, military personnel or consumer, for better or worse, we live in the age of email, texting, blogging and social networking. From a customer perspective, consumers leave “breadcrumbs” that give details that surround their digital interaction data, including:

  • Channel Engagement
  • Device & OS
  • Activity
  • Location
  • Time

With social media, we can follow the imaginings, opinions, ideas and feelings of hundreds of millions of people. We can see the images and video they create and comment on, monitor conversations they are engaged in, read their blog posts and tweets, navigate their maps, listen to their track lists and even follow their trajectories in physical space.

Other ways that these breadcrumbs are left behind have to deal with some or any of the following profile data:

  • Demo-Socio-Psycho-Graphic
  • Purchase History
  • Lifecycle Stage
  • Content Preferences
  • Permissions

In email, digital footprints give insight into click activity, enabling marketers to infer interests. Maybe a recipient has signed up or registered for a particular promotion, or shown a level of interest by browsing a certain product or service offering.

For mobile, maybe a user is showrooming with a particular device which might make comparison shopping and/or purchasing quick and easy (for those of us always on the go). The point is this: we all have and leave a digital footprint. It’s thanks to these interaction trails that marketers are able to create personalized communications for customers who have browsed their site, downloaded an application, completed surveys or abandoned shopping carts.

Will digital footprints go away? Not likely. The challenge is how to capture, visualize and take action on the data gathered from digital interactions and combine it with profile data, to create an even more accurate picture of real-time customer needs in order to deliver contextually relevant marketing communications.

As marketers, do we see this process as intuitive? As consumers, do we see it as creepy? These are the types of questions we all need to address in the day and age of Facebook and Twitter.

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