Facial and image recognition are still new – and oft feared – technologies. Like so much of recent data exchange discussions, many consumers fear for their privacy. But as we often write, brands can convince consumers to hand over their data in exchange for mutual benefit in the form of personalized relationships and better experiences.

That exchange applies to facial and image recognition as much as any other data exchange. The more marketers introduce helpful applications of the technology, the more consumers will open up to it. These three examples could do just that.

Comprehensive CRM for any purchase, in any channel

Loyalty programs attempt to track consumer spending across channels, and while they’re effective, they could (like all things) stand to improve. Shoppers forget their cards, pay with cash, use one credit card online and another in the store – all making building a comprehensive profile of the consumer more difficult on marketers.

Facial recognition remedies this tracking error. As a shopper enters the store, the retailer knows exactly who they are through their customer profile. Facial tracking in physical stores would let shoppers cash in the discount they earned without remembering some coupon. It would apply their in-store, cash purchase to their loyalty points, easily and automatically. And in futuristic retail showrooms like this one, it’d use their size and past purchases to recommend clothing and makeup, personalize dressing room music, and ship to their home – all via a saved customer profile identified by their face.

Personally targeted television ads

I chuckle thinking of the ad dollars Rogaine and AARP have wasted on my impression. While I predict that interruptive TV commercials will largely disappear, facial recognition could help targeting of both the ads we know, and the ads of the future.

Xbox Kinect is already equipped with facial recognition. Many users opt to turn off the camera when they aren’t using it, but they could be persuaded to keep it on if brands could deliver a valuable experience, such as personalized ads. A smart TV equipped with always-on facial recognition may show 14 year-old Allison a spot for the latest teen heartthrob’s 3D concert movie, while 22 year-old Brian next door sees a preview for a new slasher film – while they’re both watching the same comedy on TBS.

A single brand could even tailor different ads to different members of the same household. Mom sees a spot for Gap’s fall women’s line during her Thursday drama, while Dad sees the men’s line during his Sunday NFL game. Today, these ad placements would be best-guesses based on the general makeup of the program’s audience. But with facial recognition, all ads would be targeted to the proper viewer.

The world as a shoppable Pinterest board

Some retailers are already experimenting with shoppable displays and catalogs using QR codes. New mobile apps like Pounce make the buying process even simpler using image recognition. Users simply scan an item in a partnering catalogue, and the app takes them straight to the product page on that retailer’s site.

Imagine the competition potential if a major retailer like Walmart or Amazon built a similar app – without other retail partners? An app that recognizes any product image or physical product and pulls up the product page on their own site. Suddenly every catalogue becomes an Amazon catalogue, every store shelf an Amazon product page, and so on. Sure, consumers can already mobile shop one store from any other – we all understand showrooming. But with image recognition, the entire world becomes a showroom: A shoppable, real-world Pinterest board.

Consumers today demand privacy against companies on their social networks – including Pinterest. So how could one retailer convince them to trust all of their real-world “pins” to one branded app? By making the app effective enough to identify any product, the second a user is interested. Every passerby on the street is a mannequin, every texting commuter on the bus a smartphone demo, every living room and coffee shop a furniture showroom. Shoppers needn’t know where the item is from or what brand it is – the app finds any product via a simple picture. Image recognition will have to progress to identify items at 360 degrees, but don’t think it isn’t possible.

While distrust is entrenched in some of us, younger consumers who grow up with these mutually beneficial exchanges will be more and more inclined to share – if retailers can get the value exchange right.

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