We commonly think of ourselves as “customers” of companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online services, however if you consider it, what is the flaw in this logic? Well, to answer that we need to ask another question: what is the universal trait that customers of any company have in common? They buy something! Now with that being said, what exactly have you purchased from Google, Facebook or Twitter recently? Oh, nothing? That’s what I thought.
So then, if you’re not a customer of the mega-brands, then what are you? Yes, I hate to say it, but you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking. You are the product. You are the commodity that is being bought and sold by the real customers of these companies, who just happen to be other companies.
Let’s take Google for example, because they seem to have been doing this longer than the others and have really perfected the art of giving stuff away for free and making billions off of it. You might sign up for a Gmail account or use Google Voice or upload some videos to YouTube or maybe all of the above. In addition to this, you’re probably completing a number of online searches using Google’s flagship product, their search engine.
With all of this activity, you’re sending a very sharp picture of who you are, where you’re from, what you have and what you want. In return, Google is able to use this data to align your tastes with the advertisers who they think will best suit your wants and needs. Essentially, they are targeting you so that adverters have a much better shot at getting the right message in front of you the first time around, instead of blindly firing from the hip and hoping something sticks.
In this sense, you’re a hot commodity. The data you’re revealing about your everyday life and the data others reveal to you is the platinum standard of marketing companies. This was what advertisers didn’t know they needed until they had it. The ability to target a marketing message to only a very select group of people is paramount to any other form of marketing, except maybe even newer strategies like peer-to-peer social marketing.
You see, in the old days, we just advertised everything to everyone. Chances are most of it got lost in the clutter. Then we learned how to use demographics to hone in on a specific group. The internet and services like Google have taken this marketing strategy to a new level. The next step is getting your friends to recommend products and services to you. This seems like it may be even more promising than the highly-targeted online marketing phenomenon of the last ten years.
Think about it; aren’t you more likely to buy the book your friend recommends over the book Amazon.com recommends? You know and trust your friends on an emotional level and since so many purchases are made emotionally, this is just the perfect type of marketing strategy for social networks like Facebook.
The point is, if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product. You are boxed up and shipped off to corporate America as another demographic with a need. You know Google won’t invest billions of dollars in its proprietary search technology and then give it away for free if it had no model for making all that money back with a nice profit. Whether this is worth the price of free is for you to decide. Just remember what they say: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.