Utilizing Search and Browsing History at a Micro-Level

Erik Qualman’s book, “Socialnomics” once again entertained with interesting points in this weeks readings. The most interesting of which to me was the described ability of a search engine to predict phenomena before its occurrence by collecting and reviewing search data for trends (p. 69). One example was Yahoo’s ability to successfully predict the fast and powerful rise of pop star, Brittany Spears prior to the actual realization of her success. Also noted was Google.org ability to predict the rise of flu season prior to the Centers for Disease Control’s ability to do so. As Qualman states (p. 71), “[P]owerful stuff.”

MIT Professor, Thomas W. Malone is quoted as saying, “I think we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible with collective intelligence” (p. 71). Although Qualman looks at this available data as a set, it seems as of late I’ve been noticing more and more instances where my searching and browsing tendencies are being utilized in a individualized manner. For example, has this occurred to any of you: An ad pops up on the banner of your email browser that just so happens to be the exact product you browsed the evening before? I know, impressive, but slightly creepy right?

What have the advertiser’s done incorrectly in those too-obvious, banner ad, product placements? Really they are advertising the very product you viewed back to you and in a timely manner. What could go wrong? BUT, what is overlooked is that those advertisers don’t know what you thought of that product. It may be that you felt the product you viewed was sub-par. It may be that you decided it was too expensive. It may be a whole host of things. In addition, their very blatant use of your search history is borderline obnoxious. Not a good first impression for any potential customer. The search history of a potential customer must be useful to companies, but there has to be a better approach! Well, I think I experienced just one such tactic this week…

Wednesday afternoon I viewed a dress coat on LandsEnd.com. (It was a beautiful raspberry color, just gorgeous ladies… but I digress.) I read the coat’s reviews, checked out the details and even found my size. Ultimately though, I left the coat in the cart, deciding that it was too large of a splurge. The following day a coupon arrived in my inbox from Younkers. Now this happens very frequently, but what was unique is that the generic coupon that typically arrived had a unique title: “$50 Coupon for Coats.” Huh. Now THAT I clicked on and browsed their selection with the intention of using that tempting coupon. It wasn’t until I didn’t find anything of interest that I realized I had more-than-likely just been marketed to in a VERY powerful way.

Yes, it is possible that the Younkers’ coupon arrival and tagline was just a coincidence (being Fall anyway), but the lesson remains intact regardless. If a company utilizes search and browse results on a micro-level (as well as a macro-level, as explored by Qualman) they can craft very timely, individually-focused marketing campaigns. As Qualman teaches, by using social media to listen to an audience, a company can stay in constant contact with them. Does this sound familiar to you too? Once again, no matter whether we are discussing rhetoric, marketing, or politics – to be successful in engaging and motivating your audience you must first know them.

Posted on October 6, 2012, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I can really relate to your example of the coat coupon. One company actually sends e-mails with the title “Looking for a new _____?” where _____ IS what I was just looking for. They make me think, “None of your _____ business!” where _____ is an expletive. But you know what? That marketing tactic works. Just when we decide against the purchase and walk away, the company comes back with a hard-to-ignore deal. It’s like the high-tech version of price haggling for a new car. Or a fabulous, raspberry coat.

  2. I really related to this statement you made: “For example, has this occurred to any of you: An ad pops up on the banner of your email browser that just so happens to be the exact product you browsed the evening before? I know, impressive, but slightly creepy right?”

    This just happened to me last night. I was looking at a pair of boots on the LL Bean website. One hour later, I checked my email, and there was a huge ad on the right of the screen for LL Bean products. I find this technique somewhat annoying–when I go into my email I want to read and send messages–not see LL Bean. Howevrer, it does reinforce the product, I suppose. It seems that marketers are taking this philosophy that if they just keep pushing their product in our faces we will eventually buy it–maybe they are correct. I have not received any coupons–but that does sound like a better method!

  3. This is definitely happening more and more. When I first read this post earlier in the week I thought it was the Lands End site that tried to remind you about the coat [since you’d already put it in the cart], but then upon rereading was surprised it was from a different store all together. I know I sometimes strategize with the Under Armour site. I put stuff in my cart, talk myself out of spending that much money on spandex, and then a week later get an email saying, if you purchase the items in your cart NOW you’ll get free shipping! 😉

  4. Jodee,
    I’m curious about how the information went from LL Bean to Younkers. Did some entity (your browser) sell the information to Younkers? Does Younkers have “feelers” out on the web looking for shoppers who are thinking about products that the store wants to push? Are both stores owned by the same parent company? I guess my questions are purely rhetorical–I just think it would be interesting to trace the path.

    Back in the days of writing checks and doing business by mail, one of my co-workers would give his name slightly differently to each of the businesses that he had to deal with. Jim to one, James to another, middle name, middle initial, no middle name or initial–you get the idea. He kept track of which business received what version of his name. Then, when he received junk mail, depending on the way his name was printed on the label, he knew which company was selling his contact and customer information. He didn’t do anything with this knowledge, but was simply curious about it.

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