Marketing with Big Data: lazy vs. laser-focused

by Steve Yastrow: Author, speaker, consultant and founder of Yastrow & Company, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

Last week, a friend sent me a private text message mentioning the name of a company that had hired him. The same day, I started getting ads for that business on my Facebook feed. Seeing as the company is a B2B service and technology company, with a limited customer base, it’s highly unlikely that this ad was part of a previously conceived campaign, and that the timing was not a random coincidence.

Has that ever happened to you?

Or what about this?

At a private dinner with some clients, two people realised that they had both gone to Tufts University and discussed it for a few minutes. The next day, one of the other people at dinner, who had her iPhone out on the table, started getting ads for Tufts University in her social media feed. It’s hard to say if Tufts University, or someone working on their behalf, was actually listening to our conversation but again, the timing seems suspicious.

Not only did these organisations invade personal privacy to steal information that was not freely offered to them, these instances are also examples of terrible marketing. It’s easy to take advantage of all the data and technology available to us in an attempt to personalise marketing messages, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the right marketing approach.

Last week, I was on the United Airlines app shopping for a ticket from Chicago to Columbus, to visit my daughter and her family. But I wasn’t quite ready to buy the ticket after browsing. Later that day on Facebook, I saw ads for United Airlines, promoting flights from Chicago to Columbus.

In this case, United Airlines didn’t steal my information. They used information that I freely offered to them to create highly personalised, relevant marketing.

I’ve driven into O’Hare Airport in Chicago hundreds of times, and I always pass the United Airlines billboards that advertise flights to Tokyo, or Beijing, or London. In all of those experiences, I don’t ever remember seeing a billboard for a destination I was thinking about visiting. This time, United was able to make me an offer for a destination I wanted to visit.

I remember a time in the very early days of Internet marketing, when I was asked to speak to a group of my fellow travel industry executives about the “Information Superhighway.” I remember asking this group to imagine a day in the future when the only ads they saw were for products they were interested in buying. We’re not there yet – most of the ads we see are for products we aren’t interested in – but we’re getting closer.

The ads that came by stealing data from my private text messages or listening in on our dinner conversation are a different story. It’s like an insurance salesperson who overhears you telling a friend your address, and then shows up at your door the next day to sell you insurance. Or a retail salesperson who steals into your health club’s locker room to check if your socks are worn out, and then sends you a mailer with a promotion for socks. Not only is it invasive, it’s terrible marketing.

The difference between these examples is the difference between being lazy and being laser focused.

Here’s how you should evaluate data-driven marketing opportunities:

  • Is it good for your customers – is it fair to them and does it give them information they want?
  • Is it good for your company – will it motivate your customers to do business with you?

If it’s good for your customers, and it’s good for your business, go for it.

Useful resources:
Yastrow & Company
Steve Yastrow has acquired a singular reputation among business decision makers as an outside partner who challenges organizations to take a fresh look at themselves from the inside out. He offers clear action steps to improve business performance through Brand Harmony and ideal customer relationships.
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