Today, our personal online activities have evolved into a series of seemingly self-directed interactions, unbeknownst to us, that are largely prescribed by digital marketing logic. Our social lives once revolved around where we lived, but now it is more likely the digital space that we occupy defines our lives. According to Statista, global social networking audiences surpassed 2 billion users in 2016. We now spend an average of 135 minutes on social media platforms per day. So, who controls the online narrative? Are brands driving consumer behavior or are consumers in complete control?
The term “Digital Neighborhood” captures today’s reality behind our personal interactions. In the not too distant past, consumers were able to ignore the majority of advertising and promotional offers because they were unsuited to their lifestyle and consumption patterns (e.g., throw away their ‘junk mail’). However, as marketing budgets become more targeted, and targeting engines become increasingly specific, consumers now share their digital space primarily with those who have similar product preferences and lifestyle choices. At a time when the world is embracing diversity more than ever before, have our online personas become less and less diverse?
According to an October 2017 NewsCred Insights post, Data Science and the Rise of “Hybrid Marketing,”today’s marketers now have a greater opportunity to get to know our customers infinitely better than ever before.From social media, SEO, subscriptions, and browsing habits, to offline in-store behavior and loyalty programs, there has never been a better time for marketers to develop cross-platform customer insights and build a genuine “single customer view.” Under the influence of well targeted products and services, are consumers making their own decisions? Can they forge their own path when a few simple lifestyle choices or digital searches have seemingly propelled them to choose many of the same highly targeted products as their digital neighbors?
Millennials have rebuked suburban gated communities in favor of culturally diverse urban areas. Paradoxically, these same millennials that support diversity in the “real world” cultivate uniformity in their digital lives. They read media that has been filtered for them for relevance by their social networks. They buy products that have been targeted to and vetted by their social groups; they even date people based upon a selection algorithm that is influenced by their social networks.
While digital marketing with all of its precision, automation and efficiency, enables marketers to segment audiences and personalize campaigns. There is a compelling need for us to break from the tight strictures of our digital neighborhoods and do something that no algorithm would have guessed we would do. In this era of social media based targeting, it requires effort to encounter ideas and products that are not identified for your group. As marketers, we need to also find ways to balance the efficiencies of digital marketing while still embracing the diversity that can be offered by old school mass marketing campaigns.