Affinity trumps intent: why the ‘database of affinity’ will rule brand marketing

As the ‘like’ economy rises thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and internet gate-keepers such as Google, digital marketers are increasingly able to tap into what can only be described as a goldmine of consumer affiliations, what they likes, what they share and how they feel.

The sheer volume of data out there, though, is becoming quite overwhelming, but the maturation of online advertising, and in particular brand advertising, hinges on the effective monitoring of social behaviours, believes research agency Forrester. Such behaviours reveal long-term emotional drivers, as opposed to search behaviour, which reveals shorter-term, rational clues.

Forrester has dubbed this social, emotional data the ‘database of affinity.’ With all of this information comes the incredible power of accurate brand advertising, but actually wading through the dense and what now appears to be endless amounts of data will be the greatest challenge.

A new report by Forrester, ‘How to Exploit the Database of Affinity’, defines affinity as people’s preferences for – or desire to connect with – other people, products or things. The report also defines the difference between the database of affinity and the database of intentions. The database of infinity is usually observed by social sites, the data is usually emotional and can last for years and helps brand advertisers. Whereas the database of intentions is observed by search engines, the data is rational and it only lasts for days or at most, months and best helps direct marketers.

Forrester says vendors hoping to serve up this database to marketers will need to offer a collection of affinity data from across the social world as well as the analysis tools and ad formats that will allow marketers to turn this affinity data into dollars.

Author of the report, Nate Elliot, says big players like Facebook and Google continue to move aggressively to crack the value of this database, but who will actually win the battle is still unclear.

“While it’s Facebook’s birthright to win the race for monetising the database of affinity – after all it practically owns the trademark on ‘liking’ something – ultimately it will be Google that reaches the finish line first,” Elliot writes in the report.

The research also asserts that Google is currently beating  Facebook in building and analysing this database because of the success of Gmail and some of the review sites it owns. As a result, Facebook will continue to wrestle with privacy challenges while Google will use its affinity data to power engaging ads in many media.

Researcher Forrester interviewed 10 vendor companies, including Epsilon, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, I-Behavior, Twitter, and Yelp while compiling the report.

The report details four stages of affinity marketing that will happen over the next five or more years.

The first stage has come and gone, running from 2010 -2012, where we saw isolated data sets, simple data analysis and low-impact online ads. The next stage, which is happening now, is ‘big affinity’, where we are seeing broader data sets, and continuing with simple data analysis and medium-impact online ads.

Over the next few years we can expect ‘smart affinity’, the stage in which the data will be comprehensive, with high impact online ads and dynamic data analysis. The final stage – where the report predicts that the database of affinity will reach its peak influence – will be from 2018 and has been named the ‘ubiquitous affinity’ stage. This stage will comprise comprehensive data, dynamic data analysis and a linking to offline ads. This stage will also see many advertisers return to television as their main advertising platform, but the ads will be decided by the affinities that have been declared in social media as TVs meld with the internet.