Despite its importance in modern marketing, personalisation has become a bit of a double-edged sword for almost every sector. Why? Let’s take e-commerce as a first example. Competition in retail is fierce; the sector is dynamic and frenetic. So, to thrive, retailers must meet and exceed customer expectations, and provide the best possible deals, incentives and content. To do that, companies need accurate and reliable data at their fingertips – data you can only collect online. But how do you know you can trust the data you’re currently collecting?
At present, brands cannot freely browse any site to collect this vital information. If a site can identify (usually via device IP and location) that a competitor is gathering data, then the retailer in question could be blocked, redirected, or even served with inaccurate information. It’s not an ideal scenario. But what if the retailer could browse competitor sites in the same way a consumer anywhere in the world does? What if a retailer could use a web-based ‘truth serum’ to reveal the actual web reality?
The IP arms race
To solve this personalisation conundrum, some retailers have engaged in an IP address arms race in a bid to gain intelligence on the market at large. Some brands have reverted to purchasing IP addresses in bulk from data centres, allowing them to access data online as a consumer openly would. But this is only a temporary fix, at best. Data centre-originated IPs can be quickly and easily identified, leading the competitor to either block the address or the whole IP range.
Getting to the truth of the matter
The stark reality is, the once open and transparent internet is no longer available to all. The only way for retailers to lift this veil and view the digital domain as their consumers would, is – in effect – to do just that. To become the average consumer, with a little help from a web-based ‘truth serum’.
Instead of bulk-buying traceable IP addresses and routing traffic through an easily-identified server, a significant number of global brands are now using IP Proxy Networks (IPPNs). IPPNs support the idea of the internet as an open, transparent and truthful environment – something which is being worn away by the restrictions and blockers than come with some www domains. The most effective, high quality IPPNs do not only help create an open, truthful landscape for their users, but also for the community of consumers who have chosen to contribute. These networks mobilise the forces of millions of consumers around the world, who have freely opted in to act as a gateway for brands using the network, in return for free benefits such as ad-free applications and free subscriptions to valuable software. These consumers have fully agreed to and provided consent to act as a gateway and are free to opt-out at any time.
Based in every city, in every country and corner of the world, these consumers allow a small amount of data to be re-routed through their IP, serving as the ‘eyes and ears’ of a brand wanting to gather essential data in a transparent and open method. Whether it’s a shopper browsing on their smartphone in London, or from a desktop PC in Ouagadougou; e-commerce companies can use these consumer IP addresses to gain accurate, realistic, region-specific insight.
While many IPPNs have historically offered a one-size-fits-all approach, we’re seeing the emergence of new solutions which are targeted specifically to the needs of e-commerce brands. Features like 24/7 technical support allow those companies which perhaps don’t have the technical experience of pure-play online retailers, to compete effectively online. Automation of routing requests, a clear insight into success metrics, and the ability to increase the amount of data which can be collected are also allowing more brands to unlock competitive intelligence. IPPNs of this type are enabling e-commerce companies across the world to gather the most (and most accurate) data, from the widest possible geographic range, quickly, safely and transparently.
The benefits of this ‘truth serum’ extend far beyond merely checking competitor pricing. A clothing brand with concessions in department stores across Europe can, for instance, use consumer IP addresses in the relevant European cities to check if these stores are selling their clothing line at the correct price, using the correct item descriptions and accompanying content, for each market. This allows brands to better protect their brand and ensures consistency in brand quality and image, while still tailoring website content to whichever regional market a consumer is based in.
The clothing brand, for example, needs to check that in every concession globally its clothing lines are presented with accurate product descriptions and high-quality imagery, but that they are competitively and correctly priced for the local store in which they are sold.
The benefits of IPPN are not limited to e-commerce. For example, ad networks serving clickable ads must check that every ad presented to consumers clicks through to the correct landing page, and doesn’t divert to the wrong or a malicious site. As in the e-commerce space, malicious ‘advertisers’ can also recognise an ad network’s own IP address and will either block it or display a false ad. IPPN enables ad servers and performance marketers to see what consumers see, giving them more control over their brand. They can check that ads are displayed correctly on a publisher’s website, for instance, meaning they’re getting maximum value from their digital ad spend.
Travel companies, on the other hand, must display competitive offers and travel packages. Price comparison engines have become a key part of the customer journey and can have a significant influence on which airline, hotel, car hire company or tour provider a consumer chooses. Without an IPPN, websites are able to track and identify when a competitor is accessing their site and – as in the e-commerce sector – feed them false information on their prices.
Finally, leading application developers can use IPPN to test the performance and responsiveness of applications, or check regional website rankings to boost SEO. All of this takes place on a global scale and in a completely transparent environment. But the potential use cases for IPPN do not end here. The technology can be applied across a variety of sectors in which accurate data for decision making and competitive edge is paramount.
The power of the network
An IPPN, underpinned by a massive infrastructure is the only way of creating this transparent internet, handing companies a lens with which to view the online landscape, through whoever’s ‘eyes’, in whichever region, and on whatever device they need. The benefits of this approach are being realised across a multitude of vertical sectors, and as technology continue to pervade and evolve all areas of business, it’s clear that the need for IPPNs will only grow. Ultimately, by re-opening the internet, IPPNs are a powerful and essential tool for helping to level the playing field, and most importantly, keeping the web transparent for a better consumer reality.
Or Lenchner, CEO, Luminati