Numbers. Algorithms. Statistics. Most of us PR right-brainers, or creative-types, narrowly eeked our way through calculus and physics. We are good with language and words, so surely, while wandering down a professional path in the field of communications, one might never expect to rub shoulders with statisticians, or psychologists.
In a recent article in The New York Times, entitled “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” author Charles Duhigg candidly explains some of the modern day market research methods that companies invest in in order to successfully hone in and geo-target potential and existing customers. In his controversial article, which serves as a prelude to his new book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Duhigg uses Target’s statistician, Andrew Pole, as a model as he delves into the theory of predictive analytics, or behavioral consumer research.
While the author reports that simple demographic information – such as age, marital status, household income, etc. – can be extracted by companies based on the swipe of your credit card, he takes his research a step further and brings to life the correlation between right-brainers and left-brainers in the communications workplace. Duhigg refers to this hybrid group of professionals at Target as the Guest Marketing and Analytics department. He reveals that this department is responsible for interpreting and understanding consumers’ personal habits in addition to their more general shopping habits.
As PR practitioners, we base our campaigns around reaching a specified target audience. We work to ensure that our messaging is on target at all times. We rely on the research conducted by our communications partners and our own teams. In essence, geo-targeting has become increasingly valuable because it allows us to market and communicate with consumers in a way that is relevant to their needs and wants.
To determine those needs and wants, Duhigg suggests that the answer lies in decoding consumers’ cues. Duhigg claims that while cues are hard to decipher, they usually fit into one of five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people or the immediately preceding action. He concludes that successful marketers will be able to implement a change in target consumers’ behaviors by piggybacking off of an existing habit.
So what does it all mean to the PR professional? If there’s anything that we’ve learned from the ever-changing communications landscape, it is that brands must adapt with the times. Predictive analytics has become essential in the PR world. The insight that we gain from this type of research is crucial in helping us identify where our target audience is and how we can best reach and communicate with them.
What do you think? Are brands too aggressive and invasive with their research, or is employing predictive analytics an absolute necessity to remain relevant? Share your thoughts below!