Image Recognition technology is a goldmine for marketers

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image recognition

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I am admiring a stranger’s purse. I surreptiously take a photo of it on my phone and instantly get a “buy now” option from my favorite store.

My family is enjoying some pizza around the dinner table. I post our happy moment on Instagram. Moments later I get a tweet from the national pizza chain thanking me for buying their pizza and offering a coupon for a future purchase.

My son tries on an Angry Birds baseball cap. He looks so cute and I post a photo on Facebook. I notice that Facebook starts to show me ads for Angry Birds games and merchandise.

Sound a little far-out? This type of contextual marketing is happening now and image recognition technology promises to be a goldmine for smart marketers.

Image recognition and marketing

People upload nearly 2 billion photos per day to Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, WhatsApp and Snapchat. From that vast sea of images, marketers can glean nuanced data about social influence, brand sentiment, purchase behavior, and much more.

Using sophisticated application programming interfaces (APIs), developers have made it possible for users to take a picture of an object or person, and immediately learn where to buy the object shown, or where to connect with the person photographed.

Consider how the hospitality industry could improve customer service if they knew who was checking in—knew them from their online presence, as opposed to just their photo ID. Some hotels are already experimenting with facial recognition in an effort to provide faster check-in.

Image recognition and big data

Image recognition eliminates barriers between you and your target market, enabling frictionless mobile commerce and greater engagement.

The overlay of geographic and demographic information, combined with the rich insights offered by the social graph, offers marketers a valuable mix of data. They can use it all to create marketing communications that target the right people at the right time (and in the right place) to convert.

Brands can use image recognition to create a seamless shopping experience for consumers: just take a photo of something you’re interested in, and land immediately on a mobile optimized landing page where you can buy it.

image recognitionMacy’s launched an app in September of this year that enables shoppers to take photos of outfits they like. The app then searches Macy’s inventory for a match.

Less than two months after Macy’s launched its image search app, Neiman Marcus debuted a similar app, through a partnership with Slyce. “Snap. Find. Shop.” enables users to take pictures of shoes or handbags that catch their eye. The app then compares the pictures with Neiman Marcus’ inventory of shoes and handbags, and returns a list of offerings that present the closest match.

Image recognition enables engagement

Image recognition can do more than facilitate frictionless commerce: it also has the potential to drive consumer engagement with brands. People can upload pictures of themselves with the product in a store, then share using a hashtag or mentioning the brand on various social networks.

Logo recognition—a more targeted use of image recognition technology—can help brands better understand how their products live in the world, how consumers use them, view them, integrate them into their everyday experiences.

For the first time, brands can gain insight into why people like certain items more than others, and how they’re using them, without having to conduct expensive psychographic research using surveys, focus groups, or interviews.

But what about privacy?

There’s no such thing anymore. At best, privacy is a cherished illusion, and it’s fallen by the wayside as people volunteer more personal data in the interest of greater personalization and convenience.

But seamlessly integrating facial recognition with mobile technology, especially wearables like Google Glass, has hit a few speed bumps.

Facebook slapped Nametag with a cease and desist letter after the company launched CreepShield, an app that enables users to scan the profile photos of potential dates so they can say no to the creeps in advance.

Lest you think Facebook has your privacy interests at heart, I should point out that Facebook’s own facial recognition technology is already well developed, but I digress.

However creepy the instantaneous nature of facial recognition technology might seem, the reality is that your information is already public, available for analysis.

Being smart about image recognition

Much like mortgage records and bankruptcy filings, information about your comings and goings in public areas is public information. And like mortgage records and bankruptcy filings, it’s easy to index and search with modern technology.

Consequently, if you’re out for a run and someone’s interested in knowing more about you, they can take a picture of you on their phone, run it through an app like NameTag and immediately gain access to your public social profiles and online photos.

Suddenly, taking the time to tighten up your privacy settings becomes a higher priority.

But even setting all of your social profiles to private won’t entirely insulate you from the prying eyes of strangers: your friends can always upload and photos of you online, too. So, the modern digital consumer is like the boy with his fingers stuck in the dam: information will burst forth one way or another.

Proceed With Caution

For marketers who manage to avoid coming across as creepy, this data goldmine can help to inform product development, channel selection, content marketing, mobile behavior, and more.

The key to using image recognition for marketing is not to creep people out. Just because you have and use information doesn’t mean you have to advertise it, so to speak.

Marketers, image recognition is here. How will you use it?

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Instructional Design Manager, Enterprise Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find her on Google+ and Twitter.

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