Who Are You?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/photojo/27602762/I was recently told

I looked at your ‘about’ page. it’s more about what you do than who you are.

Fair enough, and a good observation. But how does one define who one is? I’m thinking specifically about web analytics and user tracking. We want to provide compelling content (or products, services, etc) that engage users. The best way to do that is to know who they are.

Traditionally, web sites have used several means for determining who you are, including

  • demo- or biographical – age, gender, income, education, etc.
  • attitudinal – what do you think? do you like hockey?
  • geographical – where do you live? work? travel to?
  • behavioral – What do you read? What do you buy? When do you do it?

Of course there are also random factoids, like “what’s your favorite swear word?” Sometimes the answers are insightful, sometimes entertaining, but usually they are of little value.

Back at Accrue, customers and prospects used to ask me if I had recommendations for survey tools, and how to combine log data with registration data, because without them they couldn’t “personalize” the experience for the visitor. At first I was baffled by this, and used to tell a (fictitious) story:

I go to the same coffee shop every morning, and have been doing so for six months. I order roughly the same thing every day. I know the first names of the three servers, and they know my first name, and what I like.

When I go to the coffee shop, they recognize me, they treat me like a valued customer, and they anticipate my desires based on my previous behavior. They never asked me how, and they certainly didn’t follow me around to see where I lived or worked. They just paid attention.

Here’s the thing. What you do is more observable, more accurate, and more informative than your answers to a registration or survey form. If you’ve ever heard the phrases “do what you say you will do” or “actions speak louder than words” then you know what I’m talking about. And yet I see registration forms on web sites when there’s no good reason to have them. My guess for these are three-fold:

  1. Some of these web sites are run by folks that have come from the offline media, where behavioral tracking is impossible, so they don’t think about it.
  2. Some of these web sites don’t have useful behavioral tracking, so are trying to make up for it by asking you tons of demographic questions.
  3. Some of these web sites have wonderful tracking, but no way to act on the data they collect. In short, they can’t personalize, or target, based on behavioral data.

Of course getting things in balance is key. I buy everything with one credit card. But if my credit card company started sending me very personalized offers based on my behavior, I might get freaked out about the privacy implications, and start using other credit cards, or paying with cash. So I want you to pay attention, but not too much.

Who Are You?