There is an effort under way by an organization that has historically operated on the technological frontier of its space to pool the currently disparate identities of its user profiles across properties into a single, unified, record. Its business is "conversions," and it is through enhanced profiling and targeting that it hopes to generate a competitive conversion advantage.
Google can now combine what they learn about you from across their different products, so they know as much about you when you're on YouTube as when you're on Gmail. And this matters from a business perspective. Rather than display advertising on the basis of your search term alone, for example, Google can now tailor those results to what they know about your likes, dislikes, psychographics and demographics, gleaned from watching you all around the web. More relevance equals more clicks equals more revenue, or "conversions."
Never slow to early-adopt when it comes to technology, the Obama campaign is endeavoring to do the same thing in the political space. The president's team is working to combine its records about you -- as a fundraiser, a Facebook fan, the subject of a field canvass, etc. -- so that every point of contact can be made with full information and more precisely targeted messaging. And this matters from a strategy perspective. Rather than blast generic emails based on blunt segmentation like zip code, for example, the Obama campaign can now send a pro-choice woman a note about the contraception mandate, and the graduating college senior next door a note about trending jobs numbers. More relevance equals more clicks equals more votes, or "conversions."
There is obvious power in such a personalized approach, and one that, in Google's case, has resulted in an outcry from privacy protectors, a frenzy to delete web history before the deadline, and a legal challenge from European "data authorities." However, unlike Google, which had been conspicuously notifying its users of the upcoming change effective March 1, Obama's project Narwhal, like the arctic creature for which it was code-named, has tried to lurk well below the surface of visible operations. The efforts at secrecy only underscore the tactic's importance.
So, will winning the data game prove game-changing in 2012? I posed that question recently to a democratic strategist and political targeting guru. But in the same breath that he revealed frustration over the Narwhal "leak," he shrugged the project off as minor. "It's just combining a few files together, nothing more than that. It's not like this will be decisive," he said.
Perhaps. But if Google's like-minded decision is any indication, the benefits of this kind of comprehensive system might be a little more significant than that.