Every day there is a new post about the impact of big data on marketing. In fact, most people in marketing leadership are concerned about what they are going to do about big data. It is challenging to understand and as a profession, we are working really hard to make heads and tails of the ones and zeroes. The Holy Grail that big data promises to deliver is that we marketers will have insanely tailored insights about our consumers so that we can get our messages in front of them at that zero moment of truth.
Big data promises better sales, bigger basket size and so on. It is the marketing messiah these days and I, for one, am struggling to buy into this future. I just don’t see it the same way everyone else does…maybe because I think the notion of big data driving smarter marketing decisions to be completely wrong. The reason, the data is mostly crap. I am pretty sure my data file is overrun with bad information. I have lived in 5 states in the last 15 years. I have more residences and phone numbers than could be logically kept in a file and… I lie! I put wrong phone numbers and email addresses that have been long closed on forms all the time. And I am sure I am not alone.
Hide and Seek
Contrary to popular industry belief, people do not really like to be marketed to. They are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about their online and offline privacy and how their data is being used. In fact, in September a Pew Report showed that “86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints”. The reason: hackers and ads! Hackers were the #1 concern and ads were #2. We are in the same survey with hackers, people! So, to think for one second that people are not actively trying to trick “big data” would be foolish.
Garbage in, garbage out, they say. But the promise and appeal of big data is so crazy sexy, what do we do? Well, first, I think we are thinking about it all wrong. People are not data files, or “consumers”. People are people. They are individuals with interests, needs and intentions. Sometimes, they have an honest intention to explore your products and services. When they do, they will do so in an honest way. But, they are not going to fill out a massive form to get a little information. They will give you small data. Just enough to get the information they need to satisfy their questions, curiosity and intent. When people signal their intent by sharing a little bit of their small data, their personal data, it is up to us to nurture that relationship. When we are respectful of our customer, their privacy and their data, we have a much better chance at nurturing that relationship enough to grow the customer profile over time to get an honest, true picture of your customer. Not the dishonest one begotten by spying and trickery.
We must change the way we think about customers
When we remember that our customers are people and not “consumers” or “targets” we can better treat them like people. Brands desperately want relationships with their customers. Customers just want their toothpaste. They don’t want big data, but they might want a coupon for toothpaste. They are not thinking about us in the same way we are thinking about them. In fact, customers are getting wise to our trickery and it is having quite the opposite effect. Instead of thinking about our products, they are thinking about ways to block our product messages. They are looking for ways to hide from us. They are feeling stalked.
Trust me when I say that I understand that tracking and building shopper profiles allow us to measure our work. Measuring our work is one of the most critical challenges marketing leaders face today. Showing a return on investment keeps many awake at night. But if the data is bad and turning off our customers, it is time we look for new ways to reach customers. We need to be thinking about small data, personal data, one person’s data, not big data. We should be thinking about intentions and how we can allow our customers to share their intention with us in a way that is not creepy. People are not ones and zeroes. They are more than that, and we need to start treating them that way.