Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Is knowing too much a bad thing?

The Chicago Tribune featured an article (How the Uncanny Gets Into Marketing) this week about the use of predictive analytics in marketing that left me feeling, well, torn. It seems that the overabundance of info about people's shopping habits plus some heavy-duty SPSS software allow marketers to predict who is most likely to buy their products. And it's kinda scary! It seems they can do everything from figuring out who's most likely to want to switch cell phone carriers, to determining which power tools are most likely to be stolen, to predicting how many classic titles bookstores should carry on a regular basis. Woah!

Now, you all know I'm a fan of the marketing cocept, which relies on knowing as much about the people you serve as possible. But, in a profession that values privacy as much as ours does, something about this doesn't seem quite right. I've tended to look at the "getting-to-know-your-customer" piece as the result of relationship-building instead of number crunching. Maybe that's not practical on large scale, and predictive analytics does seem to be improving some companies' bottom lines, but I think that relationships are important for every company's long-term strategy--they build customer loyalty and repeat business. While mounds of data may be able to unveil shopping patterns, what about imagining new possibilities to improve people's lives?

In the library world, we are a part of the fabric of our communities, putting us in an excellent position to build that rapport and really get to know our patrons as people rather than numbers. Seems like a better way of doing business to me.

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