You learn a lot reading and listening. Natalie Zmuda talked about “When CMOs learn to love data, they’ll be VIPs” in Ad Age a few years ago. She said a lot of interesting things, among them:

  • “With economics and innovation, things that weren’t possible years ago are now possible, and that’s causing brands to stop and rethink the role of data and how it powers the enterprise.” Zmuda wrote based on what Tim Suther, the CMO at Acxiom said.
  • Macy’s is mining customer data in partnership with customer-insights specialist Dunnhumby to better understand shopping preferences and behavior, enabling Macy’s to make informed marketing decisions by looking at the day or even the time consumers prefer to shop.
  • Mining data can offer “solutions,” like offering you a black handbag when you just purchased black shoes.

So, do you always shop at the same time? And if you did buy a pair of black shoes, do you want a black handbag? Look at Macy’s today.  According to Fortune magazine, Macy’s has been closing dozens of stores. The company is doing everything from beefing up its wedding business to adding Apple boutiques. Still, sales decline.

The real insight in her piece is Dave Frankland’s conclusion that data gives marketers’ judgments credibility and validity “to go alongside their hunch and expertise.” Frankland,  a Forrester analyst, added this: “It’s very different from where marketing used to be, where you threw the net far and hoped you could capture some customers. Now, we have a laser focus.”

That is what we called “Spray and Pray.” But, there is the problem with a laser in marketing: it’s too precise. Think of a flashlight compared to a laser. If you have a small, highly centralized beam of light, you can ONLY see what you target. The laser doesn’t even light anything: it points. A flashlight throws a traditional beam, with the middle still brighter, but you also see what’s around the projection, so you don’t fall down when you walk. It points AND lights. The question for your business data is, do you need a laser or a flashlight?

Why Targeting Might Not Be Right

Some will argue both. However, with the drive for analytics (which hasn’t stopped since, just witness “big data”) and the ability of electronic media to deliver “laser focus,” we forget things. What if we don’t want a black handbag? Why do you think ad blockers were created? If you use a laser on a problem where you need more light, you’re even likely to burn up the situation.

Zmuda went on to quote another Forrester analyst, Josh Bernoff, who said: “The only source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption, an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with and serving customers. In this age, companies that thrive…are those that tilt their budgets toward customer knowledge and relationships.”

Who can argue with that? Except that if you are obsessed with anything, you’re missing everything else. Obsession by definition is like a laser: burning what it focuses on. Forest for the trees — remember?

Think about this. We recently received a challenge from a client to review our processes for them. It’s always good to do this, whether a client asks you or not. One of the things that happens when “put on notice” from a client is that you think you are doing something wrong – automatically. Agency people want to please their clients, so when the client asks for a “revisit” of anything, the immediate conclusion is we are doing something wrong.

One of the processes we were asked to review is our fulfillment operation for the client, who asked if we were following best practices.

One of our differentiations is that we answer the phone – personally. They used to do that in the past – talk to people. But, in today’s fast-paced, text-me-now society, phone conversations seem to be, well, “old.” I even heard at a recent meeting where I presented one of my CEUs this comment: “No one uses the phone anymore to talk.”

That’s simply not true. Just because everyone is moving toward an automated response system doesn’t make it “best practices.”Stephen Moore’s piece in WSJ “Press 9 for More Options” is a great commentary on this growing lack of personalization.

Besides, having phone conversations is the only way to layer in attitudinal data, which any analyst will tell you far outweighs other feedback mechanisms for making marketing judgments. The problem is most CRMs and databases don’t have the means to collect it (how to do document tone in Salesforce?).

So, the answer to the question our client asked was, yes, we are doing best practices, The reason is it works better than automation. Now, if the client doesn’t want to pay for such practice, that’s another discussion.

We once quoted on a project for research with a major OEM supplier of automated controls. When we didn’t get the project, I tried to find out why. I called the prospect and asked if we had missed something in the proposal. The prospect said, “Oh no. By far, you were the most comprehensive.” Then I asked, “Was it the price?” The prospect said, “Oh no, it wasn’t. You were very competitive.” Now I was stumped. “So it wasn’t what we said, and it wasn’t the price, may I ask, what was it?” The prospect said. “We wanted something more superficial.”

How does any CRM factor in this comment properly – as “relief” that we didn’t get the project? We don’t do superficial, so losing that project was actually a win for us.

Having a laser focus is OK when required, but don’t think that data and data analysis will give you the keys to the kingdom. When Zmuda reported that Macy’s CMO, Martine Reardon, said they are using “lasers” to plow through customer data to “avoid polluting a customer’s mailbox by not guiding her through a 98-page catalog when the first 50 pages aren’t relevant,” Reardon is missing the entire point. It’s not up to Macy’s to judge relevance; it’s up the person reading the 98-page catalog. Besides, don’t forget what happened to Reardon. Or to Terry Lundgren. Or to Jeff Gennette eventually unless he figures it out. Here’s a tip Mr. Gennette: It’s not about lasers. It’s about knowing when to use the right light.

Let’s have a discussion. For more information about marketing, or if you have a different point of view, give us a comment. Thank you!

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