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Why Your Mobile Phone is Not Your Friend

Why Your Mobile Phone is Not Your Friend

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This is a guest post by David Giannetto, the author of Big Social Mobile, How Digital Initiatives Can Reshape the Enterprise and Drive Business Value.

Everyone knows their cell phone is collecting an amazing amount of information, correlating their every digital action to the environment surrounding them, but few understand just how deep their mobile device’s insight into who they are goes—not just what you do (what we assume apps are collecting) but who you are.  Consider these increasingly more complex ways it is gathering information about you, your behavior, your personality and even your emotional state.

  • In-App Behavior: On the surface, a mobile application helps make your life easier.  Phone, text, email and internet tell the basics but mobile banking, social media platforms, shopping or travel apps all provide more specific insight.  Are you a meticulous shopper who considers every detail, watches every video and researches different options before you purchase?  Or are you an impulse buyer who makes quick decisions and values convenience over price?  Apps tell their designers or the people they provide data to how you shop, how you travel or how you bank.  Not only does this allow the brand behind these apps to design apps that better meet your needs, it allows them to decide what the right discount or coupon is to motivate you to buy.  Keep that in mind next time you click ‘buy’ too quickly—you might be clicking yourself out of additional discounts.
  • Inter-App Behavior: Today’s social consumer doesn’t have just one shopping app on their phone they have many: usually one or more major eCommerce retailers, one or several physical retailers close to them, and at least one app dedicated purely to shopping that tells them if they are getting the best price right before they make a purchase.  How these apps are used relative to each other provides insight into someone’s approach to the shopping experience.  Is someone highly loyal to one brand, going to that brand whenever possible, or are they prone to showrooming or even webrooming?  This type of relative information gives brands insight into how their mobile presence is meeting a consumer’s needs relative to their competitors—when you scan a barcode using an app in a big box retailer, someone is looking over your digital shoulder.
  • Digital Real Estate:  Location, Location, Location isn’t just the number one rule for real estate in the physical world anymore.  There are only four permanent positions on an iPhone, and only so many apps can be positioned on the first screen of any mobile device.  The apps that fill these highly sought after positions reveal how important their app and the brand it represents is.  And, in a relative sense, they tell how much mindshare the associated brand has.  If an app was on the first screen but is slowly working its way into the background, the brand knows it must do something to alter its relationship with the owner or it will soon be deleted.  The position of gaming apps shows how often a person needs to be entertained during downtime, how they prefer to be entertained and also reveals deeper insight into their attention span and other personality traits—the game you play says more about you than you realize.

What smartphones say about you goes even deeper: are you a neat freak?  An apps usage can be compared to its relative position on the device—if your text, email or internet app is buried in a folder location that requires multiple motions to reach, it is likely your therapist wouldn’t consider you highly organized.  Almost any trait can be identified or validated in this way.

And remember these apps don’t just tell the brand on the icon about you.  Many apps collect user data without it being obvious (remember that most apps are free and you know what they say: nothing in life is free) and this data can be passed or sold to anyone.  There are few privacy rights restricting this type of data trading, especially when most users allow an app complete access to device data during initial setup.

Most people might find this nothing more than interesting.  But this is fundamentally changing the nature of selling itself.  Some mobile savvy companies are already using a technique I call psycho-selling to target consumers when they are at their weakest or most likely to make an emotional or impulse purchase—being most easily converted from consumer to customer, at the highest price and greatest profitability.  In the future, companies will compete for these moments of vulnerability—and even to manufacture them.

BSM Cover High Res

Giannetto_BSM_pressphoto_SmlDavid Giannetto (@dgiannetto) is the author of Big Social Mobile, How Digital Initiatives Can Reshape the Enterprise and Drive Business Value (Palgrave Macmillan), SVP of Salient Management Company and helps organizations coordinate complex initiatives, technology and information to create tangible results.  More information at:

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