Honey, that’s just your genome talking

3d ChromosomeThis week at Cloud Connect in Santa Clara, I had a chance to sit down with Alistair Croll, founder of Solve for Interesting. I had been vaguely aware of the site 23andMe that tests and individual’s spit to help customers, “learn valuable health & ancestry information.” Not only can they tell you which of 22 world populations your DNA comes from, they can tell you your odds of developing diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or a dangerous drug allergy.

This by itself wasn’t completely new to me, though I’d thought about having it done for my wife, who was adopted and doesn’t know her biological parents. After talking with Alistair, I signed up both my wife and myself just a few minutes ago. I’m both eager and afraid to see the results.

Marketers and psychiatrists

Rorschach TestBut then I had a chance to talk about the things that aren’t so hard-wired into our bodies at the chromosome level. Alistair and I talked about the things that come up after we’re born and how our personalities develop. Just like our DNA, we have a ‘mental genome‘ that becomes the pattern of things we say and do based on our environment and history. Yes, this is the nature versus nurture argument but there’s something that’s never been quite so clear that Big Data is starting to reveal: We are very predictable if there’s enough data about us.

Psychiatrists and marketers have known for quite some time that people fit into behavioral groups. Marketers used demographics while psychiatrists use Rorschach Tests and the MMPI. Both approaches are using data sets that are limited and impersonal to draw personal conclusions about people. Put another way, if I say ink blots look like Japan, a bear and a taxi driving really, really fast, my responses may be the same as someone who is depressed or someone who is adventurous, depending on my answer.

But there are a limited number of demographics and a limited number of ink blots. We can only go so far.

The Netflix paradigm

House of CardsWhat if the opposite were true? What if every choice we made increased the data set and further refined what we are likely to think, say and do. What if the testing material was constantly increasing and that every other person in the world ‘taking the test’ was constantly refining the results? Well, then you’d have Netflix. 29 million streaming video subscribers that are searching, watching and rating. Each click and each minute spend viewing (including where and when you pause) speaks to something about who you are.

And this is a push/pull situation. Netflix with House of Cards even brags that they designed a program for a swath of ‘known’ viewers and they know exactly who to recommend for it. It means they’re testing for tendencies and then tailoring output to meet those precise proclivities and then sending you to it, just for good measure. Wow.

Your Netflix genome is possibly the best Rorschach-Test-Meets-Marketing-Segmentation every conceived.  And it gets stronger with every click.

Broadening the data

off the gridIn March, Netflix rolled out Facebook integration. When I read it the first time, I thought, “Oh, I can now share my favorites directly to Facebook instead of manually letting my friends know.” After Cloud Connect and my conversations with Alistair, however, I see this completely differently. I see that Facebook and Netflix are now a ‘social Rorschach marketing’ play the likes of which has never been constructed in history. It is both genius and scary. My curiosity wants me to participate in this and my inner libertarian wants me to go into hiding off the grid.

For any of us who don’t yet see the power of Big Data, time to wake up and smell the behavior patterns. As a business, you can master the game and as an individual, you can understand the implications and affect your public persona.

Why not go off the grid you ask? As Alistair points out in Policing the Mental Genome:

One approach to avoiding all of this analysis is to simply “disconnect.” But that, too, might backfire. Following shootings in Norway and Colorado, reporters speculated that the shooters’ lack of presence on social platforms was an indicator of their intentions.

Ouch. Comments welcome.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Cloud / SaaS / PaaS, Data Analytics / Big Data, Featured, Marketing

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

Subscribe to the blog

Subscribe and receive an email when new articles are published

11 Comments on “Honey, that’s just your genome talking”

  1. April 6, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    I agree 100% with your strong statement on Netflix as the “best Rorschach-Test-Meets-Marketing-Segmentation every conceived”. Not only that, but I think the ease of use of their UI along with a quasi-gamified aspect made it the only system that I personally enjoyed using to rank and rate content.

    The ranking system was so responsive and accurate (I knew it really factored my rankings to base my recommendations) that it became “content” itself, i would sometimes spend hours going through movies i’d seen years back and ranking them to sharpen my personal algorithm for the recommendation engine.

    • April 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

      Fascinating when the data about our interests is as interesting as our interests themselves. Write a guest blog!

  2. April 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I think you can selectively disconnect knowing how the dots connect and who is sharing/ using the data you generate. Having no Facebook account for example can be cleverer than deleting your Foursquare one.

    I think the Netflix example is a perfect example of the numbers we are talking about at an identifiable consumer level. 29m people generating data at an unconscious level.

    Perhaps where the sheer power of consumer big data and social analytics lies is not in the conscious decisions and actions we make but the unconscious ones, the subtly generated information and footprints we leave behind without thinking.

    Those are the ones which will give us away and give businesses the opportunity to know more about us than we do ourselves.

    • April 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Theo, great points. Another think Alistair Croll writes in his piece is that if enough people stay anonymous, it keeps anonymity from being too ‘weird’…like the way a single animal is protected inside a herd. Interesting.

  3. April 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Your article highlights three interesting insights I’ve also seen on Big Data and customer intimacy:
    (1) If a supplier provides your service and can monitor your use as you consume it, as Netflix does, or a provider of Software as a Service, they have incredibly deep insights on hour behavior. They can use these to continue to refine and improve their tailored offerings to you.
    (2) Observed behavior is far more illuminating and accurate than what you might get from a consumer survey — people don’t do what they say they will do, or buy what they say they will buy. Suppliers who can tap into usage data can get unparalleled insights.
    (3) If you are a supplier of a service that includes the consumption, you can refine your offerings and tailor them uniquely to each customer. This is the extreme example of customer intimacy. However, if you don’t have an easy way to apply your insights, then getting them isn’t as useful. You need an organization that is designed for mass customization.

    • April 6, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

      Excellent thoughts, Brad. Great way to tie it back to customer intimacy and I like the point on accuracy especially.

  4. April 7, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Some of the biggest challenges in traditional marketing have been not as much as availability of tools and techniques to analyze demographics/psychographics, but the reliability of data itself. The digital revolution esp wrt services delivered over the internet have opened up whole new treasure troves of data that have made it possible to gather reliable information (and therefore invaluable insights) across a range of customer behaviors.

    The most interesting thing to me is, what Theo was alluding to when he mentioned ‘footprints we leave’ – and what Brad mentioned about ‘observed behavior’: unlike conventional sources of data (surveys and response campaigns), the real opportunity lies in non-intrusive data sources that make data more reliable. Great piece – the possibilities are really very exciting.

  5. April 7, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

    Rightly said Brad,

    The observed surveillance is bound to produce some stereotype effect and would not yield the true picture of the productive cycle. We do live under tyranny but what changes we bring to our existing work place environment thereby creating foot prints to be followed is the important consideration.

  6. April 8, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Chris, great piece. The thing that I still come back to around big data and tracking of behavior is what you call your inner libertarian. I don’t deny there are huge issues we need to address as consumers and how we allow suppliers to use our data. But, the system is self-correcting in a way.

    What supplier who makes money off delighting customers is going to use that data in a way that makes them angry? More suppliers will get this wrong than will get this right. Outside of those examples where health may be at risk (e.g., promoting massively sugary foods to a diabetic), the consumer market will adjust.

    Whether you agree or not, I personally am starting to see this around Facebook. I, and an undercurrent of folks I talk to, are not using Facebook as heavily as in the past. Granted, the average friend of mine is full steam ahead with Facebook. But, instead of trying to figure out how to configure all the privacy options and turn off the ever-more-prominent ads, we are choosing to back off the platform. I post based on what I see benefit in posting. It just isn’t simple anymore.

    And that is one of the core issues. If the platform (Netflix, Facebook, etc.) aren’t simple and clear, and the more they try to be the platform for everyone, the more I think they will effectively take people off their grid.

    No doubt the suppliers are getting better and better and capturing and using data to benefit me, the consumer. But, I just don’t think they are nailing it to the point where it is transparent to the consumer or in a way that will keep me engaged long term.

    I even get perturbed and Google when they try this at the “smartphone” level with Google Now. They are using what I do on my phone to “help” me and they don’t have it nailed, yet.


  1. Big Data ends the era of hunch and extrapolation | Successful Workplace - May 15, 2013

    […] turns us from extrapolation to intimate knowledge instead. Look no further than Netflix’s House of Cards, the very popular television program that was constructed using analytics of the massive amount of […]

  2. I’m 2.5% Neanderthal, but that’s not my story | Successful Workplace - June 18, 2013

    […] ago I wrote about how many of our preferences are baked into our DNA and how many reflect our mental genome, the way our life’s experiences change us. Since then, my wife and I both sent our saliva to […]

Leave a Reply to Chris Taylor Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: