Every time you create a profile on a web site, every time you subscribe to a mailing list or opt in for special offers from your favorite retailer or become a member of a special interest group, that information is being recorded as part of one very large, very detailed profile. If you do a search for your name on Spokeo, you can get an inkling of just how much of your personal information is online, out in the open for anyone who wants to know.
Information aggregators like Spokeo, Intelius, WAATP, My Life, and Pipl roam the web collecting freely accessible data from sources like public records and databases, including public social networking profiles. They then organize and package that data into consumer profiles, which they sell for incredible sums of money to corporations, which use that information in a whole host of ways.
A white paper by the Winterberry Group [PDF] actually analyzed the many ways in which corporations use this data. They found that companies are currently using your information primarily for ad targeting and customer behavior analysis, but also for things like content optimization and offer optimization.
This data usage, though—this practice of buying and using masses of consumer information—is still in the early stages of development. It’s taken time first to gather the heaps of data and analyze it, and then to work out how to use it. Plenty of marketers haven’t figured that out yet; they’re still approaching marketing from an old-fashioned standpoint—with this data going to marketing operations, this data going to a VP of digital marketing, and this data going to a VP of social media—rather than integrating their marketing strategies.
Integrated marketing efforts—strategies that make use of multiple channels and technologies, that combine the gathered data and cooperatively apply it to strategies across the board—are the future, and the companies that fail to adjust their thinking will fall behind all too quickly.