Biologically Personalized Content: Science Fiction in Interactive Content Marketing?

February 24, 2015 | by Jeff Mason

Biologically Personalized Content: Science Fiction in Interactive Content Marketing?

Earlier this month, Alex Braun, Marketing Director at Imagination, posed a fascinating idea in an article on the Content Marketing Institute about personalized content: do wearable mobile devices (“the internet of things”) create the potential for emotion-based interactive content marketing?

Personalized Content: “Recent” Technological Innovations

It’s already possible to use location and browsing history to generate personalized content on a mobile device. This could be in the form of ads in navigation/GPS-based tools (e.g. “There’s a Starbucks nearby; click here for directions”) or the store’s own apps (e.g. using beacons to announce promotions). Dishing up content based on browser history almost goes without saying at this point, from ads in Gmail, to retargeting ads, to using Facebook or Gmail to login to third-party sites. Browser history has basically replaced the list of subscribers that magazines and other periodicals used to offer marketers, especially when entities can gather information like IP address or device ID and have software that can correlate them. Read more about cross-device marketing here (while you’re at it: note how old that series of articles is).

Personalized Content: The Future?

I mention how far personalized content has come as context for Alex Braun’s CMI article on interactive content marketing. In it he states:

“Wearables also will give businesses plenty of other data such as heart and perspiration rates, and even emotional states so they can determine when content might be welcome and when it might be considered a nuisance.”

That’s not so far-fetched; to an extent it’s already happening today. Emotional states might seem like a big leap from heart and perspiration rates, but the technology is getting close (again look at the dates on those articles).

So what might biologically personalized content look like in terms of interactive content marketing? Alex Braun offered a few thoughts related to creating content relationships that strengthen brand loyalty:

“Imagine receiving a personal evaluation and video tutorials on adjusting your running style from a fitness brand after jogging in your new Ralph Lauren fitness tracking shirt. Or maybe your future shirt “learns” you typically run between 6:45 and 7:30 a.m., starting at the intersection of Damen and Wabansia streets. So a brand monitoring your wearable-tech shirt emails you a blog post about the best breakfast foods to eat before a run and lists stores and restaurants near the beginning of your route that are open.” (again you can find the full article here)

Biologically personalized content could also incorporate gamification. Wearables could easily “unlock” tiers of content based on biological data, both immediately and over time (recall how browser history has been used to serve ads and other content), as incentives and rewards for continuing to achieve certain fitness goals, for instance.

A wearable device could sense when the user is getting frustrated with whatever they’re working on online (be it math homework or booking travel plans), and offer to bookmark their spot while they take a break on a website that can brighten their mood or at least serve as a diversion (as informed by their browser history).

On the flip side, a wearable could sense when a user is having a great time and determine based on location what might be an appropriate ad to serve up, while the user in the mood to treat themselves to something special. Again, it wouldn’t be difficult to use browser history to determine what this “treat” might be.

I’m sure people far more creative than me could come up with another dozen compelling marketing applications for such technology. At a minimum, “browser history” could come to incorporate more than just online activity- it could include what you look at while wearing web-accessible glasses.

Personalized Content: Is It Ever Welcomed?

The idea of biologically personalized content is very cool but also can be very unsettling.

If the idea of leaving cookies on a user’s computer and reading those cookies later to serve relevant content rubs some people the wrong way, the idea of documenting emotional states and utilizing that data for marketing purposes will feel inexcusably invasive and manipulative. It would likely feel only a few steps shy of reading someone’s medical records or exploiting them when they are in an emotionally vulnerable state.

But the ethics of personalized content (especially in the context of biologically personalized content) is something we can dedicate its own entire post to. For now, it’s enough to say that you need to be sensitive to how the personalized element(s) of your interactive content will be perceived by your target audience, whether biological data drives it or not.