The publication this summer of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman” has given the literary world an almost nostalgic comeback, with all the media fanfare of a national event, something we haven’t seen with the publication of novels in the last decade, or two. Of course, the attention drawn to Ms. Lee’s new, or rather old (said to be written before “Mockingbird”) novel is predicated on “To Kill A Mockingbird” her first novel, and arguably one of the most important and revered in the American literary canon.
The hype centers around the premise of “Watchman”, when Scout (Jean Louise) the narrator and protagonist of “Mockingbird”, now an adult living in New York City, comes home to Maycomb, Alabama to encounter a father; the one she revered, she doesn’t recognize. I would argue anyone reading this has read Lee’s “Mockingbird”, and is very familiar with Atticus Finch’s argument in the pre-civil rights act South for equal protection under the law, when defending a man falsely accused of a crime. For Scout, the strong sense of morality and justice during the trial, and with the events that follow broaden her lens of humanity, and how she sees and empathizes with Boo Radley, the “mockingbird”, a good person injured by the evil of mankind. Atticus stands out as a progressive committed to equality for all. He is the moral backbone of the story, and quickly became the most loved character in the canon of American literature. Fast forward a number of years, and Scout now an adult, arrives home to discover that her father, Atticus, her hero and the person she has molded her life after – has joined a community organization, while not wholly nefarious, doesn’t represent the values Scout, or any reader of “Mockingbird” would associate with Atticus Finch.
What does this have to do with marketing? Quite a bit in terms of how we recognize consumers. Recognition is about more than the ability to collect and integrate data on a consumer, tying it back to a common ID, which is foundational, highly complex, and critical. In recognizing consumers marketers must also consider how they want to be recognized, and when they don’t want to be. People aren’t one thing, and as marketers we must endeavor to recognize consumers in a way that’s meaningful, while ensuring we understand signals and data that they prefer to be anonymous, and not combined to create a data profile that is highly sensitive, and violates the consumer’s sense of privacy and/or regulations that define and protect ‘sensitive’ consumer data (check out our Chief Privacy Officer’s post: Defining ‘Sensitive’ in the World of Consumer Data). What struck me with the publication of “Watchman” is the prescience Harper Lee possesses in understanding not only that people can have different personas but that those personas are not a static thing. Atticus Finch was a product of his time and the region of the country he lived in, and recognizing what he thinks is right for the community and the country at an ideological level were ahead of his own deeply held personal beliefs, when unchecked by the application of law or his role as a father.
Today we have an explosion of sources of consumer data, and while we talk a lot about the technical complexity of harnessing these disparate data sets to provide a profile that is more robust and complete, we must put much more focus on the human element of combining this data. With the advent of the IoTs, a consumer’s data footprint will increase exponentially on a daily basis (e.g. internet-enabled appliances, ingestibles, wearables, in-vehicle apps, and location data). Much of this data when applied to a common ID will provide information a consumer often doesn’t want known, and violates how they want to be marketed to by brands, including being discriminated against (e.g. car insurance rates, healthcare). When applied with an ethical use of data framework brands can leverage these new data sources to delight the customer, while ensuring they have a very bright line regarding ‘sensitive’ data that crosses that creepy line.
The publication of “Watchman” will challenge our long held views on Atticus Finch as an iconic and beloved literary hero, and face the truth that people aren’t just one thing. As Marketer’s we’d be wise to parse out how we’d market to the Atticus Finch of “Mockingbird” vs. that of “Watchman”, as no consumer can be placed into a persona for life.