I Give and I Give, but You Take and You Take
‘Gimme gimme gimme/ I need some more/ Gimme gimme gimme/ Don’t ask what for’
—Black Flag (‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’)
I recently participated in a workshop exercise that seemed like light-hearted fun. Seated around a round table with executives from large financial services and insurance firms, we were tasked with trying to find information from a department store about women’s shoes, nominally to wear to a wedding. We were given parameters (size 7.5, neutral colors, heels no higher than 3 inches, easy to dance in, and so on) and then turned loose. We had only a laptop and our mobile phones as our tools. And although kitten heels don’t really do my legs justice and nude is positively not my color (and why is it a color at all?), I was ready to tackle the problem.
Swell modern guy that I am, I decided to try downloading the department store’s native iOS app to see how well it could help. As soon as I opened the app, however, I was bombarded with requests. Can we use your location to improve your shopping experience? Can we provide you with notifications? I had not even seen the main screen of the app and the company was already asking me to provide it information that I know would be to its benefit. In the case of location information, at least the company had the decency to pretend that it was all for my good.
My problem is not actually with the company asking me to willingly hand over my location, or even asking permission to interrupt my vital Instagramming with notifications of the massive discounts connected to its St. Swithin’s Day sales. I get it—we live in a give-a-little-to-get-a-little world. My objection is that the company did not provide me an iota of value before it started begging for more of my personal information. Nothing. Again, I had not even begun to explore the wonders of its delightful app. Why should I be the only party to give a little in this relationship?
How about letting me use the application for a bit and then, when I run into a situation in which having my location would provide a clear benefit to me, asking me for permission to turn on location services? That seems like a way to draw me in and then get me to willingly fork over the precious data that the company could mine for juicy insights. (Although I did already give that freebie about kitten heels.)
This issue is certainly not confined to just one overeager retailer. This asymmetric value equation seems to be the norm in the world of branded apps. The problem is, as is so often the case, a solid case of inside-out thinking. Companies know that they want that data and that, in many cases, my experience will be improved by the personalization that data allows them to provide. But they lose sight of the experiential piece of the equation. How do I know I will benefit? Find concrete opportunities to show me that I will have a better/more thrilling/more enriching/more educational/more entertaining experience. Once you’ve done that, Mr. Big Brand, I am happy to play your game. Geolocation marketing can be good for both of us, but only when both of us believe it.
To be clear, this is not just a problem with apps. Inside-out thinking leads to baffling IVR menus, web self-service that serves no one, policies that have no connection to reality, and more. I’m pretty sure it also causes IBS, but the American Medical Association has warned me to stop providing medical advice without a license.
By the way, finding women’s shoes for a wedding for less than $100 was well-nigh impossible. So my hypothetical wedding guest just hot-glued rhinestones all over a new pair of Converse All-Stars and boogied the night away in low-priced comfort.
Ian Jacobs is a principal analyst at Forrester Research.