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16-year old Ashton, left, is steering herself down the road of freedom … except that mother Angela, right, is tracking her every move—not unlike a world of unseen marketers.

I am Mom … and Big Brother

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posted October 1, 2019
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I have had a profound change in the last month, ever since my daughter turned Sweet 16. Ashton is now driving, and her world is wider than it has ever been. She is out burning gas, running to see her friends, off to cheerleading practice, and hopefully, she will soon get a j-o-b.

Her liberated adventures have led me to turn to unconventional ways to keep up with her whereabouts. (Well, they are unconventional compared to when I was 16.) My husband found a robust tool that will plug into the motherboard of Ashton’s car that tells us everything we need to know about her driving habits: exactly where she is, how fast she drove to get there, and how much gas is left in her tank. It even tells us if she slammed on her brakes! We simply pull up the app on our phone, and it feeds us the information we seek.

Intrusive? Maybe, but it’s a Big Brother world.

We’re all feeding information to marketers. In retail it’s crucial for brands to understand their customers. What motivates you as a shopper? Price? Convenience? A combination? (This is where I could discuss Big Brother analytics such as Visa VUE and Arrivalist, but let’s move on.)

There are several ways marketers are tracking our every move. They monitor not just our online clicks, but also our physical movement—where we drive, walk, and wander. You can thank your smartphone and your credit card for this. When you surf the web on your smartphone, you are trackable. When you make a purchase, whether online or in person, you are being tracked.

So then what? What do trackers do with this information?

For starters, you are categorized demographically and geographically with other people that look like you. Your information is entered into a geographic information system, such as Tapestry Segment, and you are placed in a bucket based on income, education level, shopping preference, and even bill-paying preference.

Are you a “Southern Satellite” or a “Bright Young Professional”? Knowing this information—and your bucket—helps retailers make assumptions about what will lead you to visit a store, whether it’s online or in person. And retail brands are even competing with themselves to drive you into their store. They vye for your business to help keep their brick-and-mortar stores open while growing their online business.

Now more than ever, the Big Brother approach to marketing is crucial for retail businesses. They know the importance of omnichannel marketing, another strategy that has been around for a few years. Omnichannel marketing is taking a multi-channel sales approach in order to give the end user (you and me) a seamless experience. Whether you are shopping from your phone or your laptop—or in a physical store—the omnichannel approach is smooth and continuous.

It is important for retailers to know their customers so they can speak specifically to them during the shopping process. Have you looked at an article of clothing on a website and then gone to, say, Facebook, only to see that blouse or shirt follow you in a pop-up ad?

That approach helps marketers enhance the consumer experience. If their omnichannel strategy is effective, you can (and will) purchase that item with ease and not even know the magnitude of detail it took to lead you to click the “buy now” button.

For my daughter and her shopping habits, omnichannel marketing is all she has ever known. And as a new driver, Ashton has only known parental tracking on her phone and car. Does she really have newfound freedom? She would tell you she does. But to marketers, her journey toward being funneled into a specific Tapestry Segment has just begun.

And what does Ashton’s recent independence and her every journey mean to her parents? Well, let’s just say we’re keeping an eye on it.

Angela Harness is the travel and tourism partnership manager for Tanger Outlets. She lives with her husband and daughter—and her daughter’s car—in Sevierville, Tennessee.

Top photo: 16-year-old Ashton, left, is steering herself down the road of freedom … except that mother Angela, right, is tracking her every move—not unlike a world of unseen marketers.