Facial recognition is rebooting the concept of ‘1to1’

computer face

Facial recognition is the next big thing. And when computers finally get it right, expect 1to1 marketing to make a second appearance.

First, some history. In the 1990s I was lucky to work with Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, who thought up 1to1 marketing. Peppers was a former ad guy with an IQ north of 150, and Rogers was a marketing professor who could wow audiences with stories on stage. Their joint concept was that as computers got more powerful, eventually they would empower marketers to recognize and respond to consumers on a “1to1 basis,” creating a new competitive advantage by offering personalization that made each customer more loyal with each transaction. It was genius at the time, but “1to1” became “CRM” which became a sales point for database and software companies, and the core marketing dynamic was never embraced by the world … perhaps because 1990s computers weren’t up to the task. Then social media arrived, Gladwell wrote “The Tipping Point,” marketers got excited about the viral potential of interconnected people ignoring TV commercials, and the 1to1 idea faded away.

Fast forward to 2013. Now systems that identify individuals and respond with personalization are moving mainstream far beyond the film queues in your Netflix account. The UK retail giant Tesco recently announced it will use video facial recognition technology to customize ads to different customers, thanks to cameras embedded in digital signs that scan faces for a customer’s age and gender. If a young man walks by the display, he may see a promo for beer and chips; an older woman instead might be served ads for a new clothing fashion. Android smartphones can now be unlocked with a facial recognition scan (although we hear they can be fooled by holding up a photograph of the phone’s main user). And Apple, which got buzz for its iPhone 5S fingerprint scanning, in October received a patent for a new form of facial recognition that improves the clarity and accuracy of identification by sharpening images and adjusting analysis for skin tones and head angles. (One of facial-recognition tech’s biggest flaws is difficulty clearly identifying a face if it is tilted at an angle different than the original ID’s photo. Human minds can compensate when we see a familiar face from any angle, computers not so much.)

It’s easy to tell where this will take us. Soon, if any line of sight unlocks your personal identity via a facial recognition app, any screen can respond with targeting based on any data trail you’ve left anywhere. Waiting rooms and highway billboards and even banner ads on tablets and smartphones will morph to recognize you, dear Jane Doe, as the unique person you are.

1to1 marketing will finally arrive with its promise of learning and remembering your every preference, and anticipating what you may want next.

Let us know if this freaks you out too.




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