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All day long, we receive digital prompts and updates based on our preferences, connections, location and history. Apps and notifications alert us when to leave for work, what our lunch options are, which news stories are trending and how many steps we have left before we hit our goal.
Some are more useful than others. And the ones that hit the mark instantly up our expectations for all the rest.
But the quest to provide bar-raising value to a diverse set of users requires deep personalization. Which requires unprecedented levels of personal data collection.
So the question on the minds of every tech user and producer is: How personal should technology really be?

First, Let’s Review the Semantics

While it’s true that most information and services need to be personalized in order to be meaningful, the idea that a brand can differentiate itself through personalization or even “smart” features is outdated. Personalization is table stakes.
What turns heads today is technology that provides value. It goes beyond our expectations to be predictive, creative and literally life-changing. Most smartphone owners use fewer than five apps on a daily basis, and if you think about what your top five have in common, it’s probably the amount of value they deliver.
But the quest to provide bar-raising value to a diverse set of users requires deep personalization. Which requires unprecedented levels of personal data collection.
So the question on the minds of every tech user and producer is: How personal should technology really be?

What’s the Going Rate for Value?

While data protection continues to be requisite, we’ve edged past the days when privacy and security were alarming buzzwords. Today’s tech users are inspired to share personal preferences and other details as long as they know they’ll get something of value in return.
It’s a powerful cycle: The more value we get from our tech, the more we’re willing to share. The more data we share, the more value a brand can provide back to us. And the more value it provides, the more loyalty it wins in the marketplace. Value, data and loyalty, feeding each other in an endless loop.
The rub is that each of us can afford to have this kind of relationship with only a few brands. So it’s an extremely small window for the hundreds of brands who want your loyalty to try to squeeze through. The ones that master the ability to apply the data you share into something meaningful and deliver it in a meaningful and compelling way will become the brands that we trust to join in the value-data-loyalty loop.

Define Value as a Moving Target

Understanding what will be valuable to any given user at any given time and place is no small task. But that’s what brands have to do to avoid creating technology that doesn’t serve a purpose.
The great news is that technology users don’t mind being part of the process. Tech users want to help shape the future and help companies fill in the value gaps, creating a big opportunity for brands to request user feedback, crowd-source ideas, conduct research, experiment and provide transparency. The success of Kickstarter is fantastic proof that people want to be involved with what others are working to accomplish.
The question of how personal technology should be is really a question of how much value we expect. There are so many choices, and most of them are personalized and smart. The tech companies that stand out are the ones that take a creative and collaborative approach to understanding their users and doing what’s best for them. In exchange, those users are eager to join in by sharing their data and ideas.
The brands that keep pace by delivering bar-raising value in exchange for getting to know their users better will continue to rise to the top.

About

Jennifer Humiston is an Account Director in the Weber Shandwick Seattle office.

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