Who is Your Digital Self – And Who Knows Them?


Last week I attended the Forrester Customer Experience Forum 2012 in NYC for work. The focus of the event is helping customers feel an attachment to your brand by giving them differentiated service and earning their business. In a time when products become commodotized rapidly and a better price is a smartphone app away, experience is often what makes the difference. While this seems like a throwback to an older time before the advent of the big box store, the digital world plays a huge role in how we are seen today.

There were many presentations at the conference by attending companies, Forrester analysts, and vendors. Rest assured, companies are working hard to attract your business and keep it. They know the alternative in today’s era of the always-connected consumer. I’m attempting to keep this blog from focusing on work so I’m not planning on going too deeply into market dynamics. I did, though, hear an interesting perspective from Adobe’s Kevin Cochrane who is a VP of product strategy and marketing in an arena I don’t compete in.

The Anonymous Digital Man
The Anonymous Digital Man

Kevin’s story was different than others because it opened with a depiction of who he is digitally. His first slide was a map of his LinkedIn connections. There were several distinct clusters around business, college, running, and more. I attempt to keep Facebook social and LinkedIn more business focused, but when I ran my own map it was clear to see key people who bridge that gap for me. This was a very interesting view of the world.

Mr. Cochrane also uses an app called RunKeeper which is similar to Strava in some respects. He geeks out on SciFi, and is a Delta frequent flier. These are all similar patterns to what I do online and they help fill out that digital picture. I also shop a good bit on Amazon for books, electronics, bike supplies, cooking supplies, etc. I’m typing this blog on an iPad while streaming music to an Apple TV through a receiver I bought online too. I also pay for just about everything using a credit card through my large national bank which earns me points on a cruise line I vacation on.

Kevin’s tale is similar to my own and similar to your own, I’d wager. We all leave digital trails behind us. I’ve focused some of my writing on who we are online. There are large businesses who are also focusing on who we are at a macro level to try to earn our mindshare and influence what we do. That’s probably not a big surprise to most of us. While the focus on “big data” seems a bit like Big Brother, I find it refreshing that companies can have us in mind as we’re tracked – when we want them to. Either way, your digital presence is probably something even more than what you think.

Mozilla Collusion
Mozilla Collusion

There is a line that continually gets danced around. Companies may or may not be legally bound to do something with the data they collect or behave in a certain way. In many of the cases I pointed out above, I actually want to be tracked. I wouldn’t keep shopping Amazon if they didn’t continue to add value beyond just a low price. Delta rewards behavior that I track with them through frequent flier miles and priority access. Strava enables me to track my progress and rides while comparing it against others. I give my streaming music stations thumbs up or down to tailor the experience to what I’m in the mood for. I share content socially so that my digital self’s friends and acquaintances can experience it.

There’s also plenty of tracking that goes on behind these explicit wants. Companies may play this line like a tightrope and are often guided by what they think we’ll tolerate while avoiding a creepiness factor. Just think of everything your credit card supplier tracks about you and that merchants are also their customers. This naturally enough brings up a TED talk I’d been meaning to watch. If you’re interested in seeing what happens during your online day, check out this talk by Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla (the company behind FireFox) titled Tracking the Trackers then download Collusion – which is also available for Chrome.

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