In the film Ex Machina, A.I. Ava tells young human programmer Caleb that she can read his emotions through his “micro-expressions.” He seems baffled by the concept, that his physical presence reveals his true emotions. But the concept is not a new one. Body language has long been appreciated as just that, a language. And today, we’re only finally starting to measure it.
Micro-expressions, along with other impressions we make with our bodies, like activity, the miles we run, the steps we take, and the sweat we produce, define our physical presence in the world. Human data is the measurable expressions of this presence. Today we measure human data through wearables and trackers in our smartphones.
Human data is data that humans generate by moving through their daily life. It is a new and evolving type of data that takes into account gestures, movement, and energy. As humans we express ourselves best with our bodies and voices, person to person. Human data can be consciously and unconsciously generated.
Human data is passively collected
A couple seasons back a startup showed up in ABC’s Shark Tank to present a brand new app that required users to scan QR codes to retrieve marketing messages and offers from products. They barely got through 5 seconds of their pitch before Mark Cuban’s shaking head stirred a virtual windstorm on the soundstage. His dark brows ate the tops of his eyelids in a deep, deep furrow. Then he said something pretty close to this: “You’re COMPLETELY missing the point. Consumers don’t want to DO anything. We are entering a phase of SENSOR marketing, and this seems completely backwards to that.”
Up until recently, marketers and advertisers required active participation from consumers in order to better understand them. Market research meant conducting surveys and bribing consumers to fill out questionnaires. Then something novel happened. Humans slipped tracking and measuring devices into their pockets and willingly traded data for things they wanted and needed, things that provided value to their lives. In exchange, marketers and advertisers tapped into a goldmine of data that brought rich insight to their consumer profiles.
Admittedly I am taking liberty with the quote from Shark Tank, but the sentiment is there. Mark was dismissing the idea that consumers would use a QR code app because of how much work it involved. Consumers want to just live their lives, armed with devices that will help them when help is needed. And now that one of those devices is a wearable, most likely an Apple Watch, a new spectrum of data is gathering in the clouds. Brands, retailers, and the like need only figure out how to find the treasure in this new trove of human data.
What are the sources for human data?
The Apple Watch has barely touched down in 2015, and wearables are still something of a mystery. To understand human data first we need to understand where it comes from. Human data is currently measured and collected through wearables and smartphones. Wearables include, but are not limited to, activity trackers, smartwatches, smartglasses, and smart clothing.
What are the sensors?
Different sensors inside of wearables and our smartphones track different expressions of human data. Here’s a quick look at the types of sensors crammed into today’s wearables:
Accelerometers – provide several types of data, but are most commonly used to count steps. By measuring orientation and acceleration strength, they can determine whether the device is horizontal or vertical, and whether it’s moving or not. Data science allows us to further mark types of movement. For instance, sleep apps translate our movements via the accelerometer to track our sleep.
GPS – not a huge differentiator yet, since the smartphone that pairs with a wearable is most likely in the same location and also has GPS. But it’s useful to note a lot of wearables have this feature if a user is in a hands free environment.
Barometric altimeter – measures the altitude of an object based on atmospheric pressure, and is more accurate than GPS at determining location.
Optical heart-rate monitors – measure heart rate using light. An LED shines through the skin, and an optical sensor measures the light that bounces back. Since blood absorbs more light, changes in light intensity can be translated into heart rate. This process is called photoplethysmography.
Galvanic skin response sensors – measure electrical connectivity of the skin. Your skin is a better conductor of electricity when you are aroused. This is usually a good indicator of sweat.
UV sensors – these sensors warn you to get out of the sun before it starts to be harmful.
Optical air quality sensors – can detect harmful particles and measure the air quality around a person.
Privacy and security concerns
The only way a sensor driven marketing program can work is if marketers hand over agency to consumers. Consumers must have the right to opt in or out of these programs. And when a consumer opts in, the program must follow all top protocols to enhance security of a consumer’s information. Data security should be of utmost importance in any marketing program that works with human data. Luckily, protocols have been established and it’s easier than ever to increase security and lower risks to data breaches.
How can we use human data?
With every new data point we measure, the clearer our picture of a person gets. Our first interactions with human data have centered around health and fitness. Consumers generate this data and measure it against goals they set for themselves, in an effort to get healthy or lose weight. These interactions are simple, and prove we’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible with human data. Besides knowing how many steps someone has taken that day, we can also determine how comfortable they are based on how high their heart rate is. Whether they’re in an elevator, an airplane, scuba diving or climbing a mountain. When they’re on a run. When they haven’t gotten up from their desks in a while. When they’re outside, when they’re inside. And the picture just gets clearer and clearer.
How does human data augment existing customer data, what new things are learned?
With all of this new information being collected from sensors we can start to redefine our customers. We’re able to form new groups within our existing datasets, based on activity, sleep, food, and everything else we track. We get smarter on our customers.
By combining traditional datasets with more authentic pieces of human data, our records of our consumers come alive, with energy, movement, and activity. Harnessing that magnitude of customer insight allows us to trigger communications when consumers’ physical state and interests most intersect with specific marketing campaigns.
According to a Gartner report, wearables will propel a huge surge in the amount of personal data people share through apps. By 2017, about 250 million users will download apps and wearable devices will drive 50 percent of total app interactions. The amount of human data available to marketers and advertisers is increasing every day. How will you take advantage of it?