In part II of our interview series with Dave Coplin, Microsoft UK’s Director of Search talks about the future of semantic technologies, the obstacles to offering personalised services, and why the EU cookie law is good for brands.
- During your Internet World session you spoke about the “you-centric web”, arguing that today’s world of personalised services was still quite basic. When will highly personalised, seamless user experiences become an everyday reality?
- There are two ways to answer that question. There’s from a technology perspective and then there’s from a sociological perspective. I think from a technology perspective, there are four domains of context we could tap into when people consume services, and they are things like your emotional state, your social state – are you watching alone, are you with people, are you in the pub, all those things. Then there’re the environmental states – where are you, what device are you using, what day is it, what’s the weather like? And finally, there’s this concept of an external context, which is the mass media messages. In the middle of a recession, for example, we all think about fuel prices and money, and savings more than we would any other time.
Do we think we will have a society of consumers who are happy to allow brands and organisations to know their emotional state, who they’re sitting with, where they are and what they are doing?
So the technology to collect that information is starting to emerge today and I think over the next five years it will pick up. For example, emotional recognition (it sounds a bit spooky). When we first demoed the hardware that would go on to become the Kinect, it was called Project Natal and the demo that we had was a game called Project Milo, and what the game would do is it would basically determine whether the player, the person standing in front of the camera, was smiling or frowning. And if the individual was frowning, it would change the games to make them smile. And this is what we did two or three years ago. So the technology is still relatively basic but in principle it exists. And I think over the next few years we are going to see this really begin to come together.
The other thing is in order to do this in real time, you need lots of bandwidth, you need lots of processing power, and you need an incredible amount of storage. Actually, again, that stuff is being delivered today by all of these cloud service providers. So I think technically we’ll be able to do this in the next few years. However, the sociological part of this is, do we think we will have a society of consumers who are happy to allow brands and organisations to know their emotional state, who they’re sitting with, where they are and what they are doing?
I think the key debate for the marketing industry is how to restore the trust and faith of the consumers in order for them to really help us build these incredible services.
Today, I don’t think consumers are ready for that. I don’t think they trust brands and advertisers enough to give them that kind of personal information. So I think the challenge that we face is a sociological one, not a technical one, in how we make it happen. And I think the key debate for the marketing industry is how to restore the trust and faith of the consumers in order for them to really help us build these incredible services.
Because if you just for a minute are what I call naively optimistic, and you believe all of this stuff is for good and people will use it for good, my God, you could create some incredible services! But in order to get that goodness, you really have to help consumers go on this journey; the government has to help us, the advertisers, the marketers, to do the right thing and we need the right kind of legislation in place so that people do the right thing while using the data. So all those things have to happen and to me the sociological part of it is the real time constraint and it’s going to be interesting to see how we, as a society, progress through that.
- There has been, indeed, a heated debate about privacy, with concerns about how users’ personal information is handled by brands. How about the so-called EU cookie law? How do you expect this to affect the move towards personalisation?
- I think the EU cookie law is interesting and I think the challenge that we face, not just for the cookie law but quite broadly, is that trying to do this the same way for everyone is really hard. Even within the EU, different member states in the EU have very different approaches to privacy, be it from a legal perspective or just from a cultural perspective.
What if you took a completely different approach and actually you just went to the consumer and said: “Listen, you tell us about yourself, the brands that you like to consume and what you do, and in return we’ll give you really valuable, targeted, contextual advertising.”
And so I think much of this involves a couple of things – one, the government has to take control but secondly, it’s actually about transparency and helping consumers to make their own choices, rather than to take this broad-brush approach, which is that everybody has to behave this way, or everybody has to do that. And I think we need to push this debate further. Because the other thing I worry about is whether the entire model is broken. If you think about today’s model, what happens is marketers effectively shadow consumers – wherever they go and the transactions they make, and they hoover up all of this information left behind by the transaction and the services they consume. They then use that information to create an assumption about that individual, which they then sell to advertisers as a profile in order for them to target the individual consumer.
Well, what if you took a completely different approach and actually you just went to the consumer and said: “Listen, you tell us about yourself, the brands that you like to consume and what you do, and in return we’ll give you really valuable, targeted, contextual advertising.” So none of this broad-brush stuff, but actually specifically for you. And I’ll give you an example, back to this world of naïve optimism I mentioned earlier.
If I tell, let’s just say, Starbucks, that I’m a loyal customer, I’d actually quite like it if every time I was walking down the street and I passed a Costa Coffee or a Café Nero, my phone would chirp and it would say: “Hey Dave, just for you for the next half hour, half-price coffee at Starbucks. Just round the corner.” As a consumer, that’s really valuable to me because I like coffee, and I like Starbucks coffee, and you’re giving me money off.
There’s an opportunity for us to completely turn around the data model but it all relies on advertisers and marketers and brands being quite explicit about the offer. I don’t think people are changing in their view about privacy but they’re becoming much more astute about what their data is worth.
If I think about today’s example, through services such as GroupOn and others – I’ll be walking down the street, my phone would chirp and it’d be: “Hey Dave, half-price leg waxing.” And, you know, as interesting as that may be for the weekend, during the week not so much. So as a consumer, my reaction is: “I don’t trust advertisers. They’ve not given me anything of value. They’ve violated some element of my privacy to get that information and they’ve given me nothing.”
So there’s an opportunity for us to completely turn around the data model but it all relies on advertisers and marketers and brands being quite explicit about the offer. I don’t think people are changing in their view about privacy but they’re becoming much more astute about what their data is worth. And I think there’s a misconception about, in particular, young people. You’ll often read about how young people don’t care about privacy like we did when we were kids. And I just don’t think that’s true. I think they’re much more aware of the value of that data and they’re much more willing to make an exchange.
So the lesson for marketers and advertisers and brands is: if you make your offer explicit, then people are more likely to be able to make a decision about whether they’re going to part with that data or not. If it’s not explicit, if it’s just like: “Hey, tell Starbucks, you love our coffee” and you don’t know what data they’re going to use or whether you’re going to get free coffee, you might actually not want to do that. In summary, it’s all about transparency. It’s all about empowering the user but I think you really need to question the current data model about taking stuff in the background and making assumptions as opposed to proactively asking the individual.
- Is this the recipe for winning back the trust of consumers?
- I think it’s all about transparency and about being explicit about the offer. If you let people make a decision on their own terms, quite often they’ll make the decision that you want them to. If you try to get them to make a decision without disclosing that information, then it’s really hard and I don’t think you do anything but destroy trust, rather than build trust.
Image credits: Microsoft Advertising Community Blog