BY: DAVID WARREN, PhD
Most people probably don't think about the billboards that they see as they drive around town or on the highways. Most people probably don't wonder why any individual billboard looks the way it does—why the organization has chosen a particular approach in an attempt to get people to act or think a certain way. But even though most people don't give any thought to how a billboard gets crafted, almost everyone reacts to the attempt at persuasion. Some individuals won't like the particular approach of a billboard, or even an entire ad campaign at all. Someone may even find the billboard offensive.
Although the effort that goes into deciding on an ad campaign involves analyzing data about lots of people, any one billboard can only be seen as the same physical object by every driver who passes by. The billboard is perhaps the grandest example of print, which creates a one-to-many relationship between the printed material and its readers or viewers: One unique billboard is viewed by many drivers. The billboard tries to be a least common denominator: It is designed to persuade the highest possible number of viewers.
But what if the billboard were customized to you? Do you like chocolate so much that you buy it in larger-than-average quantities every month? Your personal billboard could use imagery that makes you feel the way you do when you eat chocolate. Do you work for Catholic healthcare, donate generously to organizations working for justice and human dignity, and like to travel? Your personal billboard could sell you a trip to a rain forest by emphasizing how your tourist dollars make a difference to the citizens of that country. Or, if you subscribe to specialty gardening publications and order specialty plants by mail, a billboard for a new specialty gardening supplier will be shown to you.
In the physical world, billboards and other forms of print marketing do not have the capability to morph, to undergo transformation. While print allows marketers a least common denominator approach, virtual (computer-based) print enables those marketers to personalize what the individual viewer sees. The imagined custom billboards I've described work exactly the way in which virtual environments can function. After pinpointing the data you want and gathering it, you can use computers to sort through virtual mountains of data and present the individual with something customized. This process is more complicated than my description; however, it's not only possible but happening now, and probably happening to you. As you use the Internet, almost every move you make is being recorded, added to other data already known about you—for example, your age, gender, credit history, subscription records, and online purchases—and analyzed.
CHA's Data Gathering
CHA has developed its Web site to serve as a resource library, a rapid delivery mechanism, and a cost-free conduit for members to access CHA databases. CHA has used its Web site to help the Catholic health ministry work smarter and to extend the notion of a ministry gathered in an unlimited virtual space.
Almost three years since CHA started its Web site development, the association has done very little in the way of collecting information. The CHA Web site does keep logs and, for members who are logged in, maintains a record of pages requested. One way this information is used is to track the growth in the use of Daily News—information that tells CHA to continue to make this service possible.
Having expanded content on its Web site, established processes for maintaining and refreshing the content, and marketed the virtues of this resource to CHA members, the association will now turn its attention to collecting, analyzing, and acting on information in cyberspace to make the Web site an even more useful tool for busy people. Imagine logging on to the CHA site and receiving not merely a personalized greeting but links to suggested resources which are based on your job responsibilities, your site history, and your stated interests and are particularly appropriate for your needs.
One of the many buzzwords that gets bandied about i
n the Internet world is "synergy," usually meaning the commingling of certain commercial interests to achieve mutually desired goals. You've probably seen Web sites that purport to offer a complete guide to something, say restaurants in your metropolitan area. It would be a rare site, indeed, that would actually present all the possible dining establishments objectively. The synergy in this example involves the Web site creator and the companies who pay to be part of the proffered list. The site pretends to be an objective guide but actually serves as a way to present covert advertising. That's synergy working against you, not with you.
Just as it has been doing with healthcare throughout its history, CHA seeks to model what this power of the Internet should be used for. That approach to the resources of this world is not really anything new for Catholic healthcare; nor is it any change in course for CHA to serve as a gathering point for the ministry.
Dr. Warren is Web editor, Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.
David Warren welcomes your feedback at 314-253-3464.
Copyright © 2000 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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