Marketing Data Is Hanging Out There ‘Like’ Ripe Fruit

The storm raging around Facebook and the supposedly unauthorized use of data from 87 million members of its digital community by the British firm, Cambridge Analytica, is hardly surprising. That this data, scraped from Facebook’s files, was used to support Donald Trump’s election campaign just adds thunder and lightning and moves us one step closer to Big Brother not only watching us, but influencing our lives.

The storm raging around Facebook and the supposedly unauthorized use of data from 87 million members of its digital community by the British firm, Cambridge Analytica, is hardly surprising. That this data, scraped from Facebook’s files, was used to support Donald Trump’s election campaign just adds thunder and lightning and moves us one step closer to Big Brother not only watching us, but influencing our lives.

That Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, in two days of difficult testimony before the U.S. Congress this week had no reservation to say, ”We have made a lot of mistakes in running the company,” is no surprise either. The data genie has for some time now been out of the bottle and it is not going back in, no matter what Congress or Facebook manage to do to tame the beast.

Those of us in the business of tailoring promotional messages to tightly defined targeted prospects are likely to have a certain “and then what” attitude to all this (possibly even with just a smidgen of admiration for Cambridge Analytica, if its magic algorithms really work as advertised: no, certainly).

Like many of you, my day job, for more years than I like to mention, has been to find imaginative ways to sell things direct to consumers using all kinds of data to identify and communicate with the most likely prospects. It is no bad thing that the issue of just how private or public the data we have shared with Facebook and other digital friends has belatedly leaped into the headlines. The $42 billion plunge in Facebook’s share value over the first few days of the discovery certainly signals that the data issue is a serious one, crying out for resolution, and investors are getting nervous.

Writing on his daily blog for the New York Times, David Leonhardt says that Mark Zuckerberg sees himself as “a kind of enlightened despot.” He points out that while Zuckerberg says his only interest is in what’s best for Facebook users, this can conflict with his obligation to deliver the biggest bang for the investors’ bucks.

“So what happens when Facebook’s business interests and society’s broader interests aren’t aligned?” he asks. “I think the solution to these problems is clear in broad strokes — if still very uncertain in the details. Facebook, along with other huge technology companies, need stronger government oversight. Zuckerberg, to his credit, comes close to acknowledging as much.”

Before everything had grown to mega-scale, the problem was always who had the data and could it be used for marketing? When I started in this business, it wasn’t even called “data:” We had a bunch of mailing lists that had been collected, mostly from people who ordered a product for delivery, rented a television or joined an organization. I remember how proud I was when I got hold of the list of alumni from my university.

What I was certain would be a winning mailing to them returned not a single order, but one letter demanding that no further mail be sent to that person.

We know (although the public is becoming more aware) that what was then an unsophisticated industry of people ordering through the post has, along with the use of computers and advanced data technologies, grown into a huge, highly sophisticated (some might say too sophisticated) component part of the communications industry. The seller wants to know as much as he can about each person; not only the obvious demographics, but increasingly the more important psychographics, the emotional triggers that influence buying decisions often without the individual even knowing it. The seller wants to vacuum the web for the latest data. Total digital media spend increased from $16.9 billion and 6 percent of total media investment in 2007 to $83 billion and 36.7 percent in total media investment in 2016, according to eMarketer.

The now-removed CEO of Cambridge Analytica bragged “of being able to parse and influence the electorate through ‘psychographic’ algorithms derived from that data,” wrote The New Yorker. After Trump won, Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, crowed that the company’s psychographic algorithms had carried the day. His chief technical expert said: “We would know what kind of messaging you’d be susceptible to and where you are going to consume it and how many times we are going to have to touch you with it to change how you think about something,”

“What’s the currency of the world now?” quoted The New Yorker of a leading consultant. “It’s not gold, it’s data. It’s the information.” Collecting and using data has become an essential part of the marketing business. Orwellian or not, that has become a reality.

Netflix knows what movies you like just as Amazon knows every purchase you have made and every item you have looked at. Your travel, your choice of clothes, the type of restaurants you like, the frequency of visits, the friends with whom you exchange chat and pictures are all now out there on the web. While many companies promise you privacy, few can guarantee it. If Equifax or even the security services of the U.S. government can be hacked and the data stolen, confidence that your data is safe may be more optimism than realism.

You and the availability of your data are something of a simple trade-off.

If you don’t want Netflix to stream movies to you when you want them (and even to suggest others you may like based on those you have seen) nothing obligates you to subscribe. If you don’t want to have your groceries or that 50-pound package of dog food delivered, no problem.

The choice belongs to each one of us.

The price for the convenience of the digital benefits is that you will always be giving up data about yourself. Some database out there will know you have a dog, the kinds of groceries you like (and can guess with accuracy the size of the family), how many and which types of films you choose and on and on and on. And there is no way you can ever get it back.

We tend not to think about any of this when we fill in the coupon or complete an order form. And until we get used to it, we can’t understand how the merchant from whom we recently purchased something knows to put ads for similar items next to the emails flooding our inboxes.

Remember that data is the fuel that powers today’s marketing engine and your data is the low-hanging fruit for marketers. Don’t expect them not to harvest it, to their benefit and yours.

Introducing ‘The Integrated Email’ Blog by Debra Ellis

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

My experience with email marketing began shortly after Hotmail launched the first Web-based email service in 1996. A client had compiled approximately 11,000 customer email addresses and wondered what we could do with them. Our first test was a 25 percent discount on any order placed that day. A text-only message was sent using the mail merge functionality in Excel and Outlook. It took over two hours to send all the emails.

Those two hours were quite exciting. We had two computers in close proximity so we could watch the progress of the outgoing emails and monitor sales on the website. Within minutes of starting the email transmissions, orders started flowing in. By the end of the day, more than 1900 orders were received. A handful of people asked to be excluded from future mailings. Over 200 people responded with personal notes. Some were grateful for the discount. Others apologized for not placing an order and asked to receive more emails.

Things are much different today. The novelty of receiving a personalized message from a company is long gone. Spam filters make getting emails delivered a near impossible mission. And the competition for recipients’ attention is at an all-time high. Even so, email marketing remains one of most effective marketing and service vehicles available.

The emails that deliver the best return on investment are the ones that are integrated with the other marketing channels to provide information and service to the recipients. They create a connection between company and customer that motivates people to respond. A successful email marketing strategy builds loyalty while increasing sales.

Many email campaigns today are little more than a systematic generation of one promotional email after another. Discount emails are relatively easy to create and deliver sales with each send, making them a quick way to inject some life into lagging sales. The simplicity of sale marketing combined with solid response rates creates an environment where marketers are reluctant to move beyond the easy, low-hanging fruit.

In addition to generating sales, discount marketing also trains people to always look for the best price before buying the company’s products and services. It is not a sustainable strategy because there will always be another company that can offer lower prices and lure customers away. A better plan is to develop an integrated email marketing strategy that educates and encourages people to develop a relationship with the company. This requires more effort, but it delivers loyalty and long-term results.

Every email that a customer or prospect receives is an opportunity for the company to establish itself as the best service provider and solidify the relationship. Best practices include:

  • Using a valid return email address so the recipient can respond with one click.
  • Sending branded emails that identify your company at first glance.
  • Mixing educational emails that provide “how to” information for products and services with new product launches and promotional messages.
  • Transactional emails that communicate shipping information and challenges so customers aren’t left wondering, “Where is my order?”
  • Highly targeted and personalized emails designed to engage customers and prospects at every point in their lifespan.

Finding the right combination of educational, event and promotional emails requires testing and measuring results for incremental improvements. The resources invested improve relationships, increase sales and create a sustainable marketing strategy.

Note: Over the next few months, we’ll feature winning and losing email marketing strategies and campaigns on this blog. If you would like to share your company’s killer emails, send them to Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.