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Whose Identity is it Anyway? Consumer Representation in the Age of Database Marketing

DETLEV ZWICK York University - Schulich School of Business NIK DHOLAKIA University of Rhode Island


    In the information-intensive marketplaces of the networked economy, database-related marketing techniques such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) have gained unprecedented popularity. Their development is based on the assumption that greater capturing of customer information in digital databases leads to epistemologically superior insights about the customer. The proliferation of customer databases, however, has triggered privacy concerns and has encouraged consumers to devise information externalization strategies to maintain control over their digital representation (i.e., identity) vis-a-vis companies. Drawing on poststructuralist theory, we argue that current consumer strategies are ineffective in maintaining control over one's identity in the electronic marketplace because such strategies are based on an obsolete ontological distinction between the "real" customer and his or her digital representation. We suggest that in the age of database marketing digital consumer representations in fact constitute the consumer. Therefore, only if consumers are given full access to companies' customer databases can they maintain a sense of control over their identities in the marketplace.
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