Anyone who hasn’t listed their domicile as “rock, lower level” in the last five years knows that the biggest mega-trend in marketing is “Big Data.” As with most of these media-dubbed monickers, this means different things to different people, but in general, “Big Data” refers to the use of customer information, some of it public, some of it mined from social media, some from transactions, appending services and overlays, to market more effectively to those customers. We’ll use that loose definition here as a basis for discussion.
Most consumers see evidence of big data in use either in their mailbox or their e-mail inbox. Personalized postcards, membership cards, letters, e-mail messages etc. are visible evidence that big data is in use. For better or worse, this type of evidence is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data, and can indicate a less desirable and more clumsy approach to data use. We contend that the best use of data like this should be virtually invisible. It’s like the movies – if you can see how the special effects are done, the movie becomes about them and not about the story. Poor usage draws attention to the mechanics and diverts interest from the bigger message.
Big data can be an incredibly useful and effective tool for creating an outstanding customer experience, as we’ve seen with companies like Amazon or Zappos. The use of transactional and preference data to enact an algorithm to “suggest” logical and related purchases the customer might find of interest is a tremendous customer retention tool. If I know that my transactional data is being saved and used for this purpose, I’m comfortable with that, knowing that they can only really use the information I give them. Plus, if there is a problem, I know they have a vested interest in keeping that data for longer periods of time, and keeping it accurately and privately. I can reference an order and have a really good chance of them being able to access their records, see what the problem is, and correct it immediately – the data and it’s access empowers their customer service staff to solve problems quickly and completely.
For outreach marketing, lead generation, membership recruiting and the like, the use of big data gets trickier. You may or may not have any transactional data to use, so often the underfunded marketer falls back on extensive and repeated use of the data they have, by over-personalizing their outreach materials. It’s like the insecure guy trying to prove how smart they are to the pretty girl, it looks obvious and a little desperate. If I receive a piece of correspondence with my name or address liberally sprinkled throughout the piece, I get the feeling they don’t know me and are trying to fake it.
Brilliant use of big data is unseen by the recipient. Big data is behind the fact that you are receiving the message at all. But that’s just the beginning. Modern computing power is such that each message can be customized to the recipient in a vast array of ways, either printed or digital. Keying photographs, imagery, copy, messaging, offer and other elements to appended data makes for a powerful and effective marketing punch that gets results. Outreach marketing is about triggering an emotional response, and one thing we know reaches our emotional triggers is things we’re familiar with and comfortable with. Seeing an ad served to you on your favorite social media platform from a site you recently did some shopping with shows the marketer’s hand, but is effective because you’re familiar with the shopping site and know how it happened. A personalized postcard for a national swimwear marketer with my name all over it, featuring beach clad models sent to an address in Minnesota announcing a sale in February is not likely to resonate as well. The data could have been used to swap out the image for one of Eskimoes in swimwear, and change the headline to “Coming Soon. . . ” just based on the zip code and the date. Let us know you at least gave us a moment’s thought . . .
The best bet is to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient as effectively as possible, for as long as possible, and to use the data to effect the outcome, not to show you have the data. Use that data you have cleverly and wisely, rather than show how much data you have. Show us you thought about us, not that you know about us. Invisible data speaks the loudest, and contributes the most to the bottom line.