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SXSW – Does real-time data change our behavior?

Jackie Lampugnano

I sat in this discussion the other day called "Does Real-Time Data Make Us Better Consumers?" where we all had a conversation about how real-time data affects us. I noticed that the crowd had two definitions of real-time data: instant feedback and push notifications. Both address a situation in the context that you need/want it, but the biggest question we all had was "does that really change your behavior?"

For instance, we threw around an example of tracking what you eat or your work out habits in apps like My Fitness Pal. It's clearly real-time - you enter in the data and it instantly provides information on your health. But does that information actually persuade you to change your behavior? Sure, it might be more compelling than looking at your food journal a week or two later and noticing that you need to cut down on the Red Bull, but I'm still not 100% convinced that it gets anyone to change their behavior.

The reason I say that is because to change behavior is a really powerful thing that happens over time. Real-time data can be used to collect behavior, show you a pattern that you can look at, analyze and reflect on, but what do you do from there?

The same applies to push notifications. This aspect of real-time data is more about disruption. It's all about the get a notification about a band playing six blocks away in 20 minutes. It's that unplanned disruption of "here's what's going on right now."

To me, that still doesn't lead to a change in behavior. It results in a change of my action at the time. That's not necessarily my overall behavior.

But it got me thinking: what does get me to change my behavior?

How does real-time info affect the way I behave?The conclusion I came to is that it changes my behavior in the sense that I'm used to getting information in real-time. I behave knowing that I can find out what I want, when I want to, how I want to. I expect to be able to have relevant information...right now. That's the change in behavior. Its an entire societal shift that has taken place due to smartphones and faster mobile Web browsers, apps, etc. that enable us to know anything we want to know in real-time.

It's an important distinction for marketers in particular to notice. At the end of the day, we're trying to affect a consumer's behavior...right? Well, I think we need to look at the bigger picture. It's not about a consumer's one action in that one particular instance. It's about shaping how they behave in any situation, regardless of the context. So it doesn't matter that the one push notification got me to leave where I'm sitting right now to go to another panel. The behavior change is that I expect to jump from place to place whenever I feel like it because I can easily find out what's going on around me in real-time.

So I challenge everyone else to think about this for a minute. What actually gets you to change your overall behavior? Does it have anything to do with real-time data? The group of people I debated with were pretty torn, but maybe that's because we all have a different definition of "behavior." It's interesting to take a step back and think about though.