Don't Forget the Basics!

“Junk mail is a familiar evil that’s barely changed over the decades,” Joel Stein asserts in his article on data mining in the current issue of Time.

I’m not sure which half of that sentence hurts worse!

The article focuses primarily on data mining of online activity ... why companies do it and what individuals could or should do to protect their privacy. Some five pages later (I read the old-fashioned, print version) Stein concludes that the benefits mostly outweigh the risks and for the individual user it’s “a pretty good exchange.”

Along the way, he offers a few lessons for marketers (and fundraisers) as well. Online or off.

What’s in it for me? (WIIFM) The benefit to the customer is the deciding factor. In this case, payoffs like speed (searches, posting airline miles) and convenience (not having to re-enter shipping information after every online purchase; location based offers) seem worth the cost of being recognized.

The customer is in charge. Recognizing that the customer controls the relationship - and having readily available options to cool or end it - encourage further engagement.

Companies must be responsive. (see above) When Zappos went “too far” in personalized targeting a year or so ago, customers pushed back. Hard. Zappos readjusted its retarteting program and is considering abandoning it entirely.

Accountability is imperative. But in a great lesson for fundraisers, Stein quotes Evidon CEO Scott Meyer, “Do I look at nutritional labeling? No. But would I buy a food product that didn’t have it? Absolutely not.”

The devil is in the details. Data demands diligence. Pure and simple. Whether you’re targeting a segment or personalizing an individual appeal, your success hinges on your ability to record, retain and retrieve the right information.

Technology does offer a lot of benefits. Both to the company and the customer. But it can only enhance or devalue the relationship ... not rewrite the rules entirely!