What Google's My Activity Feature Means for Brands

Data and Account Activity Feature Will Force Marketers to Be More Relevant

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Google's new My Activity feature allows individuals to review all the data Google has about them from search to YouTube to maps. While anyone's first reaction, especially an Android user, is likely to be awe, a second thought should quickly follow for marketers: My Activity will educate consumers about the wealth of data that brands can access, raising their expectations of the relevance and value they should get in return.

I've caught myself expecting more from the brands I patronize. While on a business trip, it irks me when Uber's promotional message doesn't realize I've already moved on from one destination to another, even after I've used the app in the new location. I get annoyed when my hotel company bombards me with vacation packages for a city I only visit for short weekday stays. All these companies have access to lots of data about me, and I expect an improved customer experience in return. I'm not alone. Consumers are more likely to buy from brands that are relevant and personalized to them.

The problem is that many marketers are so overwhelmed by the idea of creating personalized, relevant communications that they don't attempt it, or they try to solve for it in painful ways, such as using dated consumer segments or awkwardly inserting consumer names into generic copy.

Marketers increase their relevance significantly by putting the consumer first in their strategic and campaign plans. It's common for marketers to think about a product that needs to be sold, or a mobile app that they'd like to build. But starting with these goals puts consumers in the back seat and often results in generic messaging. It's important for a marketer to start a plan with the question, "What does the consumer want or expect from me?" and plan accordingly.

Aligning consumer expectations with sales goals often doesn't require sophisticated data and technology. It's likely that only very recent or very simple data points will be enough to create a valuable interaction and still drive sales goals. Consumers frequently abandon shopping carts, and may not return to them if they think they would have to start the shopping process over again.

Net-a-Porter uses only its most recent data -- items in the abandoned shopping cart -- to send a "gentle reminder" email in case the consumer is interested in completing his or her shopping. It's perfectly targeted, helpful to customers that want to continue shopping, and also in line with business goals. This email would be even more relevant if consumers that ended up purchasing items elsewhere could be eliminated from the campaign.

Third-party data can help marketers augment meager capabilities when it comes to putting consumer needs first. A new service called UberMedia provides near-time foot traffic information that marketers can use to connect to very specific groups at very specific times. Many companies, including travel brands, use third-party data to insert relevant content such as local weather and time-change data into their apps and emails.

However, marketers must be wary of creating "personalized" messages that fail to address consumer expectations for relevance. Imagine a gym sending out a new membership coupon after New Years to drive sales that uses the consumer's name and shows the nearest gym location. The message could turn former and current gym customers off completely. An image of a body builder might annoy a yoga fan, even if the gym offers great yoga classes. The use of personalized data may do very little to create an effective message if the campaign fails to address several important consumer expectations. By putting consumers first during campaign planning, marketers can pinpoint what data or tactics they should be using in order to produce effective messaging.

Marketers should also think about how to use data to create engagement or value when they are not directly tied to sales goals. Facebook's popular new feature that aggregates old images and messages between friends into mini-scrapbooks is an example. Similarly, brands can thank frequent shoppers, recent product reviewers, even people who pin their products on Pinterest using a new CRM matching feature introduced by the platform.

Google's My Activity is now out there for its 1 billion users to visit. Expect consumers to extrapolate from the wealth of Google's information that every company is similarly empowered to create relevant, personalized communication. The clock is already ticking for marketers to live up to these rising consumer expectations.