These days, consumers can track and measure just about everything. Purchase history. Calories consumed. Friends and followers. After all, as Lord Kelvin put it: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it."

But people today feel like they're drowning in data. That's because most of the data they get from brands is more or less meaningless. It doesn't have to be that way. When data tracking systems are designed with consumers in mind, they create a powerful feedback loop that can actually make a meaningful difference in people's lives. 

Offer customer incentives.
Look at the Toyota Prius. The data from the Prius dashboard gives drivers real-time feedback on their fuel consumption, which leads to a series of behavioral micro-adjustments in how they drive -- a little less pedal to the metal at the traffic light, a little more coasting on the downhill.

This simple feedback mechanism turns city driving into a game instead of a chore. And for many Prius drivers, their obsession with the game doesn't end when they park the car. Go to any number of Prius forums and you can see how, like any enthusiastic World of Warcraft gamer, Prius drivers are a tight-knit community, constantly sharing tips and tricks with each other in the hopes of getting to that next level -- 70 miles per gallon or 700 miles on a single tank of gas.

Toyota isn't the only brand successfully leveraging the power of real-time feedback to modify behavior. Over the past couple of years, insurance companies like Progressive and State Farm have created tracking devices that can lead to lower insurance rates for safe driving. Policy holders who opt in not only get a chance to earn discounts, but also are able to learn more about their driving habits.

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Change people's behavior.
Nike Plus and Nike Fuel Band have used massive amounts of data to encourage people around the world to change their every day behavior, inspiring more people to run longer, harder, faster and farther than ever before. By repackaging the data in an easy-to-read dashboard and by layering in a social element, Nike allows its customers to connect, challenging each other through friendly competitions to run a certain number of miles "together" in a given week even though they may live 3,000 miles apart. Of course, it goes without saying that people who run more have a tendency to go through more pairs of shoes.

Engage and build your community.
As you may recall from the 2012 election, real-time feedback can encourage unprecedented levels of volunteering. While it's true the Obama campaign raised unprecedented amounts of money from small and mid-sized donors, it also broke records in community outreach, with an army of volunteers knocking on doors and making millions of phone calls. The campaign was able to do this not just by giving volunteers online scripts and a list of phone numbers, but also by giving people feedback through real-time and historical data, showing them the number of calls they made that day, week, month or even during the course of the entire year. Furthermore, they created a leaderboard that showed people how many calls other volunteers in their zip code had made that day. Simply put, they added a healthy dose of competition, which encouraged their volunteers to do more.

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Be meaningful to customers.
Of course, any one of these brands could have tracked dozens of different data points. Nike could have told customers the number of running shoes it sells every year. The Obama campaign could have tracked the number of lawn signs it had given away. But that data would have meant nothing to the people they were talking to. What they did instead was measure things their consumers would be interested in, so that at the end of the day, they could make more informed decisions.

With that in mind, the question for your business is: "What feedback loop can you build into your product or service to give people useful data around their daily activities and make a difference in their lives?" 

Here are a few ideas:

  • What if a faucet manufacturer created a wireless data flow for all the faucets and spigots around the house, similar to the Wattson wireless energy monitor, allowing consumers to see daily and historical usage patterns from their kitchen to their bathrooms to the laundry room to the sprinklers outside?
  • What if an electric car brand gave you a free app before you bought the car, so that you could track your daily driving habits and see for yourself whether or not an electric vehicle is right for you. 
  • Or what if a digital printing brand allowed you to track your daily, weekly and monthly printing habits, so that you could more easily see how much paper you're going through in a given month or year? And what if that same digital printing brand -- which undoubtedly sells scanners and data storage services -- gave you tips and ideas for digitizing your entire operation, helping you save money and natural resources as a result? 

Data that makes a difference in consumers' lives can increase your bottom line. If you can incorporate more meaningful feedback into your product, service or brand, chances are you'll get more market share, have happier customers and make Lord Kelvin proud.

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