With the holiday shopping season about to come upon us, we thought that now would be an excellent time to help you beef up your knowledge of the tricks that marketers use – both online and offline – to convince you to buy more, more, more. While “tricks” is a strong word and could likely be just as easily replaced with the word “tactics,” the end result is the same. You’re encouraged to buy things you may not even need (or want for that matter) based on the clever idea of a marketer. And yes, we concede that many of these ideas are clever.  Today in the fifth installment of the series, we’re talking specifically about marketing tactics that use data collection. You can back up to read about tactics used online, in brick and mortar stores, marketing upgrades and to capture information with a sign-up.

Number One: Remarketing. You Will Buy, You Will Buy.

We’ve talked about remarketing in a previous article, but it’s such an insidious use of your data that we wanted to bring it up again. Remarketing is when a website or a third-party advertising service (typically the latter) captures data that indicates not only what websites you visited but what products you may have looked at while visiting the website. Then, the advertising service shows you ads for the products any time that you visit one of their pages.  You’ve surely seen this type of advertisement on Facebook, but you’ll also see it not only on Google advertising partner pages but on pages that seemingly have no connection to Facebook or Google (in this case, they are likely using an advertising service called AdRoll). Why is this type of data so dangerous to the person trying to make wise postconsumer decisions? Because you can only be expected to fight off the temptation to buy something so many times. By looking at a product on a website, you’ve indicated that you have interest. The marketers now know that. You may have decided that this was an impulse buy or an unwise financial decision and moved on – but if you see the item enough times chances are that you’ll eventually give in. Of course, remarketing can go horribly wrong and be very funny (for example when you use your husband’s computer to look at feminine supplies), but in most cases it’s also extremely effective at using your data to market at you until you convert to a sale. What can you do? It’s hard to turn off the mechanisms that track you and remarket at you. We advise working on your “ad blind” skills!

Number Two: Sales History. Using Your Data to Convince You to Buy.

Every time that you make a purchase at a store, either online or at a brick and mortar store where you participate in a loyalty program such as a rewards or points card, the retailer or company logs your purchasing history. While it may seem like this is a benefit to you (especially in the case of the rewards points where you likely accrue discounts), the truth is that the data you’re providing ultimately makes it easier for the company or retailer to convince you to buy things. Without this data, the company may not realize that you’re a woman who likes to buy, for example, lipstick. But with this data, the company knows this and can make sure that you see as many discounts, specials and advertisements for lipstick as possible. When they advertise things at you that they already know you have a propensity to buy, the likelihood that you convert into a purchase is much higher. So too is the likelihood that you ultimately buy something that you didn’t need (or even necessarily want) just because it has been correctly targeted in a marketing campaign. What’s the best way to avoid this? It’s extremely difficult to do online, but in brick and mortar locations truly weigh the value of your loyalty rewards against the amount of data that you’re giving up.

Number Three: Your Data. For Sale.

We likely can’t say it often enough – always, always, read the small print any time that you shop online, sign-up for a social network, fill out a contact form or purchase a service online. You may be surprised how many online destinations have no intention of ever making their money by selling you an item, providing you with a service or even interacting with you directly (see the notes below about social media data). They’re simply planning to use your data to allow other companies to market products and services at you. You’ll often need to dig deep to find out if this is something that’s within the terms of use of the website that you’re visiting. We all have a taste of this if we’ve been on Facebook for the last five years and become aware of how many times the terms of use have been subtly changed to allow greater and greater access to your data. To avoid this requires practically constant vigilance. Even if you comb through the terms of use once (as well as the privacy policy), you’ll need to keep up-to-date on any changes on websites where you’ve transacted in the past. Our advice? If this really matters to you, whenever possible set up anonymous accounts on sites, use the Incognito window when browsing in Chrome and always check the terms of use. Always.

Number Four: Your Social Media Profiles – Your Data.

We probably don’t need to warn you at this point that your personal data on social networks is a source of revenue for them – both by allowing advertisers to target you directly on their networks and, in many cases, by selling your data. For example, did you know that when an advertiser chooses to target you on Facebook, they can decide whether or not you see their ad by selecting your age, gender, relationship status, listed interest and geographic region? That means that before you’ve even provided any data to the retailer or company at all they can already put you into a very narrow funnel of people who are more likely to want to click their ad or purchase their products. In many cases, you haven’t even directly provided this data. It’s been culled from posts that you’ve liked or groups that you’ve joined. So while you’re simply participating in an online “community” or supporting friends, your data is being gathered to more effectively market at you.

Number Five: Your Social Media Profiles – Your Friends’ Data.

Unfortunately, even if you’re being careful about what data you provide on social media networks, you can be data profiled simply by the company that you keep. If the majority of your contact list fits a specific demographic or geographic profile, then you can assume that you, too, will be profiled that way. Are you talking online to other first-time moms? You’ll see diaper ads. Are all of your friends pet owners who post about their pets constantly? Expect to see pet ads. You see how it is. If you don’t give up the data, your social circle may be.

Marketers don’t mean to be evil. In fact, they’re not. They’re simply people with a job to do using the best tools that they can come up with to do that job. However, we as postconsumers have jobs to do as well. By educating ourselves about these tactics, we can make sure that our decision making is driven by informed and thoughtful choice rather than responses and reactions to marketing tactics.

Did we miss a marketing tactic that involves data collection that you want to share with us? If so, just tell us about it on one of the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Automotive Social via Flickr