Should marketers personalize products using consumers’ DNA?

Discussion
Dec 04, 2017
Tom Ryan

According to a study from the University of South Carolina, marketers will soon be able to derive “hyper-personalized” shopper recommendations from internal biomarkers such as saliva, breath and blood samples.

According to the research, companies are already working to customize product lines such as home-delivered meals and skin care based on analysis of a customer’s DNA sample submitted through an at-home blood test. Additionally, nutrition companies are partnering with firms that produce wearable technologies such as fitness trackers and skin-serve sensory patches to notify users of bodily needs that can be satisfied through the consumption of specific products. RFID tags and quantum ID tags are also expected to support such customization.

“Technologies are now in place that will transform the consumer goods industries in the next five to ten years; most notably in health, wellness and beauty products,” said Mark Rosenbaum, lead author of the study and chair of the retailing department at the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, in a statement. “We envision consumers increasingly purchasing products, such as vitamins, meals and cosmetics, that are formulated based upon a consumer’s unique DNA sequence.”

The research reinforces Under Armour’s conviction that the data the brand is collecting from its Connected Fitness platform on individuals’ nutrition, sleep, activity and fitness will one day enable recommendations well beyond purchase history. The platform includes MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal and has more than 220 million members globally.

The University of South Carolina study noted, however, that consumers so far tend to be wary of “intrusive” technologies. Risks include biomarker data being hacked and the legal ramifications of incorrectly reading a consumer’s biomarkers.

Yet the study noted that such technologies carry lifesaving possibilities. Wireless technologies, such as RFID-NFC, could potentially prevent consumers from knowingly purchasing counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs or infant formula. Consumer behavior will also change as decisions are increasingly informed based on bodily needs.

The study noted, “Consumers will become more passive participants in retail consumption as they rely on technology for need-recognition and product-fulfillment.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see purchase recommendations for health, wellness and beauty products increasingly driven by biological data? Could this technology radically change how these products are sold? What factors will work for and against purchases informed by bodily needs?

Braintrust
"Retailers will have to come up with compelling arguments to convince consumers to go this way, but I believe they will."
"Health-obsessed Millennials will welcome the ability to efficiently access and improve their health markers through disruptive technologies..."
"...this is extremely personal data so I wonder how this fits in with the new GDPR being put in place in May 2018. "

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28 Comments on "Should marketers personalize products using consumers’ DNA?"

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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I recently asked a dinner group of retailers whether they could make personalized offers. One participant answered “We’re sending you email to your personal email address, aren’t we?”

Just because a new technology is available doesn’t mean it will be adopted soon or at all. The retail industry has a long way to go before it can leverage consumers’ DNA.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Sadly, I am guessing your guests had significant positions with retailers. “We’re sending you email to your personal email address, aren’t we?” unfortunately is what I have come to expect and highlights the biggest problem facing retail … cluelessness.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

RFID trackers and wearables, no problem. DNA testing, that seems to be stepping over the line. So many things could go wrong and I haven’t started reading any science around how to personalize with DNA as yet. The public would need to be pretty bought-in already for this type of invasive marketing to succeed. And that’s my 2 cents.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust
I can see an audience interested in this technology. We are becoming more health conscious. If the technology can prove to the customer why purchasing a particular product is beneficial because the data supports the product as being a perfect match with the customer’s own health needs, I can see this being successful. However, there are many people skeptical of how far technology is going and how accurate it may be. So it will take time before this catches on but if the benefits are there, it will prove to be a valuable tool for marketers and customers and no… Read more »
Ian Percy
BrainTrust
As per universal law, 80 percent of this initiative will be nothing more than theatrics, 20 percent will be actually legitimate and helpful. In 1967 the “word of the future” was “Plastics!” Today, in the context of this discussion at least, it’s “FREQUENCIES!” There is already considerable evidence that the resonance of your various cells — or the frequencies they broadcast — can give you (or an interpreter) an accurate analysis of what will restore those cells to the healthy and correct vibration. Without understanding the full impact of the truism, most of us know that everything in the universe… Read more »
Al McClain
Staff

Glad to see I’m not the only one who remembers “The Graduate”! How did that plastics thing work out for the planet?

Ben Ball
BrainTrust
On one hand, this idea represents a logical extension of the trend toward applying traditional in-office or lab procedures to “retail medicine.” Why shouldn’t we have all the best information and recommendations possible delivered automatically in the form of customized nutrition, skin care or health care? On the other it is a pretty large step toward a world where we surrender our judgment and accountability for our own well-being to some AI-driven network. We have to wonder how long it will be before someone begins to manipulate that network for their own goals — perhaps just profit, maybe something else.… Read more »
Nir Manor
BrainTrust

The trend towards more personalized products is real and we will see more and more in the coming years. Many consumers already do DNA mapping and gut biome mapping to understand what they should and shouldn’t consume. Many people are checking their biometric indicators via smart devices. The stage when consumers share their biometric/DNA data to get personalized products is yet to come. Retailers will have to come up with compelling arguments to convince consumers to go this way, but I believe they will.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The idea of having products formulated to suit individuals is interesting.

However, as beneficial as these things may be, success will be dependent on how comfortable consumers feel in sharing very personal details.

There are issues, of course. You share your DNA details with CVS so you can have personalized skin care. CVS buys Aetna and suddenly an insurance company has access to your DNA with all of the implications that follow…

Al McClain
Staff

Geez, I’ve received three or four notices this year that various companies have had data breaches, allowing my health records, SSN, and credit card numbers to fall into the wrong hands. Now they want blood and saliva samples? I guess I’m an aging Baby Boomer, but I’ll figure out what I want to buy the old fashioned way. But, I’m guessing the Gen X’ers will happily provide this info. for the personalization benefits.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

I’d agree on the generational gap on this one! I’m already thinking of the possible benefits to health products and services customized just for me as a Gen Xer. While I still look at organizations to determine if I can trust them to handle my data, I also take the view that eventually everybody will be breached (they just don’t know it yet) and so it’s not just a matter of time for the worst to happen, it’s also a matter of how long can I extract the benefit without suffering the consequences of a breach.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

It is inevitable. We will be carrying around little chips (or maybe they will be on our phone) with DNA data and when it comes to health, wellness and beauty products we will scan a QR code on the package and it will tell us if the product is right for us. Or if at home, we will scan our QR code into the products’ website and it will spit out what is the perfect match for our ills, mental health or simply the right color lipstick or hair.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The blatant flaw being overlooked here is that the recommendations are based on a brand’s interpretation of the data and data is always open to interpretation. The assumption is that whoever utilizes the information has sufficient skill to use it correctly, an interpretation that aligns with the consumer’s or consumer’s trusted advisor’s science/philosophy, and that the brand is unbiased.

No… there’s no chance of this ending badly…

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

This prospect for target marketing is so far into creepy that I cringe at the consideration of it. Having had a 23andMe DNA assessment done, it is clear that the privacy line between persons and brands must be very wide and uncrossed in this area.

That said, the detection and use of haptic indicators on-site (noting interest and excitement), offers enabling indicators to on-location marketing.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

Lyle, I had to look up “haptic” to see if I agree with you or not! “Relating to the sense of touch and proprioception.” And yes, I do agree with you and see the frequency comments I made above as being relevant to that. The body does not have to be invaded, it need only to be listened to haptic-ly. You’ve made me a smarter guy!

Kiri Masters
BrainTrust
As others have noted, the drag here will be concerns around data breaches and hacks. But I certainly see biological data having a revolutionary effect in many retail categories. Biological data has long been unaffordable or inaccessible to regular consumers who are interested in preventative measures — you need a prescription, expensive blood draws and individual consultations to find out your health markers and then investigate how to improve them. I’ll bet that health-obsessed Millennials will welcome the ability to efficiently access and improve their health markers through disruptive technologies, instead of having their data tied up in an increasingly… Read more »
Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

The opportunity for the misuse of biological data outweighs any possible benefit, making the Experian data breach child’s play. Also of note is that human preference and desire to eat french fries, smoke or not workout defies common health knowledge, ignored by millions of individual people for decades. Creepy.

Doug Berg
Guest
6 days 21 hours ago
I’d say until retailers get the “basics” done right by allowing consumers to design their marketing on any site (think Tivo for consumer marketing), versus this constant guessing game (retailer smarter than consumer, even with DNA) that leaves customers frustrated, tuned out, and dead ended, will there be any real change in relevancy and engagement. Sites like Facebook that allow us to “micro-tune” the communications we get at a person, ad, topic, level is a perfect example of how you give control to consumers over what/when/where you get my attention. Until we stop stalking consumers and start talking with them,… Read more »
Katherine Black
Guest
6 days 21 hours ago

I do not see recommendations being driven by biological data taking hold any time soon. While I agree with others’ points around data security and retailer’s lack of capabilities, the primary reason that I don’t see this scaling is that often what is best for you does not sell. At the end of the day, retailers will follow the money and there is a fairly limited universe of consumers who are willing to jump through hoops for a tailored recommendation (Remember Prescriptives cosmetics?).

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I believe there are absolutely no limits to the personal information shoppers will provide to gain access to promotions. The challenge is that those promotions must be compelling. However, bioidentical hormone replacement has been around for years. People willingly provide their DNA today to multiple vendors of ancestry research. This is just the next evolutionary step for consumers.

Cristian Grossmann
BrainTrust
Personalization is a tried and true method when it comes to selling. And when it comes to biological data, products like 23andMe and Ancestry have become extremely popular because consumers are interested in learning more about their ancestry, health risks, etc. that all fall under biological data. This seems like a very promising market to tap into further. However, this is extremely personal data so I wonder how this fits in with the new GDPR being put in place in May 2018. Although it was set for the EU, it will affect all companies working with customers in the EU.… Read more »
Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

We are still conquering the basics of marketing. Most companies don’t understand or even maximize social networking, omnichannel marketing, online marketing, etc. This is light years away….

Jennifer McDermott
Guest

There was a time when we couldn’t imagine freely giving away our data to a company — now most of us routinely do every time we log into social media. Is giving away biological information really out of the realm of possibility?

Sadly, I fear not.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Paging George Jetson, please pick up the white courtesy phone….

Really, just, no. I’m not sure this won’t happen because people don’t want their DNA public knowledge, or for some other reason, but I just don’t think it will happen … and I’m perfectly OK with that.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
I can see many legitimate benefits to this to personalize health, wellness and beauty products, but I suspect there will absolutely be a generational gap with this one! Millennials and Gen Xers will more willingly embrace this than others as long as there is a perceived value. Many in these groups will believe breaches are inevitable so why not reap the benefits in the meantime? However, I see manufacturers grasping this sooner than retailers. Retailers are struggling enough now with more “mainstream” types of personalization and this may be too complex for years to come before retailers open up to… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
What a fundamentally bad idea. In part, the science of genes isn’t there yet. I have a son with an anomaly in one gene. While it has led to some challenges, they could have been more severe. That anomaly could have led to heart problems (it didn’t), it could have led to a host of other health issues (it didn’t). And what does the genetic specialist say? Genes are just a starting point. There’s tremendous randomness in how the human body develops — where environment and accident may be far more important than the genetic starting point. It’s not surprising… Read more »
W. Frank Dell II
BrainTrust

We are starting to see Rx customization by patient, so why not other products? Medicine based on DNA is the future resulting in lower cost and faster recovery. With an ever growing number of patients on maintenance drugs, there is plenty of support for the concept. I see little if any support for any product not any better than zodiac signs for selecting anything.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
6 days 15 hours ago

The data driving relevance for a brand is increasingly contextual, so it’s natural — no pun intended — to use biological-ish data. Certainly data such as those from activity trackers provide insights into someone’s lifestyle, especially when associated with additional data.

However the reality for most retailers is that they are dreadful at using data to be relevant. This is a big stretch unless and until these retailers are more customer-centric and accordingly, more capable in terms of data consolidation and leveraging said data.

Nice idea, not going to happen at scale or en masse anytime soon.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retailers will have to come up with compelling arguments to convince consumers to go this way, but I believe they will."
"Health-obsessed Millennials will welcome the ability to efficiently access and improve their health markers through disruptive technologies..."
"...this is extremely personal data so I wonder how this fits in with the new GDPR being put in place in May 2018. "

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