People always change. And most of the time, they don’t realize it.
According to Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, we are walking around with an illusion that our personal history has just come to an end, and we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives.
Gilbert came to this conclusion by studying how people perceive changes in their personal values. He and his team asked 500 people to tell them how their values have changed in the past ten years, and asked another 500 to predict how will they change over the next ten years.
What they found after analyzing the answers of the different groups was that people vastly underestimate the extent of changes, no matter how old they are.
Of course, shifts in our worldviews slow down over time, and younger people transform their attitudes faster than older ones, but the difference is not as big as we think. Actually, 18-year-olds who took part in the study anticipated changing only as much as the 50-year-olds did, based on their answers.
Contrary to popular beliefs, not just our values, our personality is also transforming over time, even at an older age. Stanford psychologist Sanjay Srivastava surveyed over 130,000 people on key personality traits, such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion.
He found that people over 30, instead of reaching a final mature state, in some ways, change more remarkably than younger people. They become more responsive and caring and got better at dealing with the ups and downs of life.
At this point, it’s probably going to be less surprising for you, but we also underestimate how much our preferences are going to change. Our favorite musicians, hobbies, and even our friends change more than we’d like to admit.
In the Dan Gilbert research, participants were asked how much would they pay to see their favorite band play 10 years from now, and how much would the pay to visit the concert of a band, which was their favorite 10 years ago. They answered with a different number, and on average offered more than nearly 50 dollars to see their new favorites, most likely because they thought their new preferences wouldn’t change so easily.
Party like it’s 2008
The reason I brought up this topic is because I believe, up to a certain level, we advertise to a past self.
You can target people who liked your page on Facebook, or have shown interest in a certain product type or hobby, but you don’t really know how recent that activity was. Do their likes inform you about their favorite bands 10 years ago, or tell you which concerts they are the most likely to visit next week?
Facebook has seen a 21-percent decline in original sharing from mid-2014 to mid-2015, and the decline, at a bit slower pace, has continued to this year. Original sharing refers to personal updates from people; the vacation photos and posts about important life events both fall into this category.
The overall share on the social media site hasn’t declined as much, which indicates that what has changed is the type of posts that we publish, and they no longer talk about us.
There are two popular explanations for these shifts. According to one, people share less because the context has changed. The presence of brands, celebrities, and publishers is more prominent on Facebook than it used to be, and this, with the site’s controversial approach to privacy, has discouraged people from sharing their personal stories.
The other explanation is more down to earth. According to it, we share less because we realized that our posts are shared with such a diverse group of people that they could as well be public.
It’s not too far-fetched to assume that the change in our attitude toward Facebook can affect our other activities on the social network as well, and we’ve also become less honest about the things we like.
For example, a few years ago you might have liked your favorite band’s new album or a political activist’s post on Facebook, but this is not the type of information that you would feel comfortable sharing with the large circle of Facebook friends now.
And as a reason, your digital representation on the social network could reflect what you were a couple of years ago. Opinions since then, as we could see, have changed more rapidly than you expected.
Now, as an advertiser I’m not really interested in that other guy.
I’d like to reach the present or the future self of people in my target group. But that’s obviously not going to work if I apply data that describes a former state.
To some extent, this problem is also present in retargeting. The advertisements of products that we’ve already bought or lost interest in a long time ago are displayed to us far too often. And even when these campaigns are fine-tuned to avoid situations like this, they are based on what people were interested in some time ago.
Of course, this post is highly speculative. Not much research has been done in this area, or at least I couldn’t find relevant information on how current our Facebook likes are, or what percent of retargeting campaigns are run for a longer time than they should have been.
And this is why I’d like to know what your take is on this topic. Do you see this a problem as well? In your opinion, how could we target the future self of the consumers? How could we take into account their fast-changing attitudes and preferences?
Will new social networks, programmatic marketing, or extrapolation take us closer to this goal? Let me know what you think!