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.

The Power of Purchase List Targeting

It’s important to have a trusted purchase list source. You should be informed of where the company gets its data, how often the data is updated and its policies on bad data. Once you have a good source, you need to take on the challenge of choosing your list options.

targetaudSince your response rate is directly related to who you are sending mail to, purchasing a mailing list can be a real challenge. There are so many options to choose from that it can be overwhelming. But first, it’s important to have a trusted purchase list source. You should be informed of where it gets the data, how often the data is updated and its policies on bad data. A couple of big purchase list players are Experian and Acxiom — you can check them out, as well as many other reputable list brokers. Once you have a good source, you need to take on the challenge of choosing your list options.

Top industry list option examples include:

  • Nonprofit: Income, net worth, age, children, causes donated to in the past, organization membership, fundraising engagement, location
  • Retail: Number of children, income, age, gender, apparel purchase habits, brands, online shopping habits, location
  • Political: Children, homeownership, voting propensity, location, age, political party affiliation
  • Entertainment: Age, income, children, hobbies, purchase history, location, marital status
  • Healthcare: Age, income, number of children, location, gender, homeownership
  • Education: Age, income, gender, highest level of education, location, interests

You may pick from demographics as well as psychographics. There are so many options, make sure to give yourself time to look over what will target your best potential customers. You want to get the right offer to the right people — the more targeted your list, the better response you are going to get. Marketing personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers, so if you have mapped personas beforehand, it will be easier to make your selections.

You can pre-map customer personas by taking a look at your best customers: Who are they? The more details you have, the more accurate the persona will be. Look for trends in how your customers find you and what they buy. Make sure you are capturing important information about customers in your data so that you can use it to build your personas. You should also interview customers to obtain key answers directly from the source. Too many assumptions can cause you to create an inaccurate persona.

Once you know the personas you are looking for, choosing the right selections for your list becomes easier. Select the options that best represent your customers. The more characteristics you pick, the better targeted your list will be. But keep in mind that more selections often result in a higher-priced purchase list. So make sure you only use the options that really reach your target.

Your list is now ready! Your final ingredients for successful direct mail are your creativity and your offer. Don’t spend all your time on the list and forget these other two components — without all three working together, your direct mail will not generate the response you are looking for. Make your offer clear and concise. Make your creative design catching, but not overwhelming. Give people a reason to read your direct mail.

Creating a One-Word Brand Statement

What do your customers think of when they see your organization name and logo? Your public image is important and should be up-to-date and fresh, especially during times of swift technology, cultural changes, and new generations. Every organization should go through a periodic review of how it is viewed and how it wants to be viewed by customers, donors and prospects.

What do your customers think of when they see your organization’s name and logo? Your public image is important and should be up-to-date and fresh, especially during times of swift technology, cultural changes, and new generations. Every organization should go through a periodic review of how it is viewed and how it wants to be viewed by customers, donors and prospects.

While sitting in an organization’s Board of Directors meeting last month, the topic came up of the desire to create a new logo. It had been the 1990s when it was last updated, and at that, it still had visual remnants of a decidedly 1970s feel. It was agreed a new logo should be developed, but it was also agreed that before going too far, a branding statement should be created to guide along the process more efficiently and result in a better outcome.

If you’re like many organizations, you might not have a branding statement. This isn’t to be confused with a mission statement (which can too often be filled with empty language that rings hollow to customers and staff).

A branding statement is a marketing tool. It reflects your organization’s reputation: what you are known for, or would like to be known for. It articulates how you stand apart from competitors. A branding statement is often written by individuals to define and enhance their own careers. If that’s of interest to you, adapt these steps and you can be on your way to creating your personal branding statement.

Today we launch into steps you can take to freshen your organization’s brand and image. This first installment will lay out five research and brainstorming steps to distill your image down to a single word. My next blog post, published in a couple of weeks, will focus on how to succinctly state your logical and emotional promise, both of which must be formulated in order to create a hard-working branding statement for your organization.

  1. Audience Research:
    Are you confident you accurately know the demographics, psychographics, and purchase behavior of your audience? If you’ve recently profiled or modeled your customers, then you probably have a good grasp of who they are. But if it’s been a year or longer, a profile is affordable and will yield a tremendous wealth of information about your customers. Demographics (age, income, education, etc.) are a good foundation. Knowing psychographics (personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles) takes you further. And knowing categories of purchase behavior enables you to drill down even further.
  2. Competitive Analysis:
    You can’t completely construct your own brand identity without understanding how your competitors position themselves. A competitive analysis can be conducted along two lines of inquiry: offline, such as direct mail and other print materials, along with what you can learn online. If you have print samples, you can discern much about a competitor’s marketing message. But you may not be able to pin down demographics, psychographics, and purchase behavior by looking at a direct mail package. There are a number of tools you can use online to deliver insights about your competition. Here are a few:
    • Compete.com offers detailed traffic data so you can compare your site to other sites. You can also get keyword data, demographics, and more.
    • Alexa.com provides SEO audits, engagement, reputation metrics, demographics, and more.
    • Quantcast.com enables you to compare the demographics of who comes to your site versus your competitors. You’ll be shown an index of how a website performs compared to the internet average. You’ll get statistics on attributes such as age, presence of children, income, education, and ethnicity.
  3. Interpretation and Insight:
    Now that you’ve conducted research, you’re positioned to interpret the data to create your own insights. This is where creativity needs to kick in and where you need to consider the type of individual who will embrace and advocate for your organization. You may want to involve a few people from your team in brainstorming, or perhaps you’ll want to bring in someone from outside your organization who can objectively look at your data. What’s key is that you peer below the surface of the numbers and reports. Transform facts into insights through interpretation. Use comparison charts and create personas. Then create statements describing who your best customers are.
  4. One-Word Description:
    Now the challenging work begins. Distill your interpretation and insight into one word that personifies your organization. Then think deeply about that word. Does it capture the essence of who you are (or want to become) and what your customer desires? For example, a technology company might use a word like “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” or “intuitive.” Car manufacturers might use a one-word description like “sleek,” “utilitarian,” or “safe” to describe their brand and what they want their customers to feel when they hear a brand’s name. You might think that by only allowing one word, you are short-changing everything about your organization’s image. It won’t. Finding the one word that describes your organization’s image will force you to focus.
  5. Reality Check:
    So now you’ve identified a word to describe your organization’s brand and image that resonates with both your team and your customers. It’s time for a reality check. Can your organization or product actually support that word? Or if it’s aspirational—that is, a word that you’d like your image to reflect in the future—is it achievable? And if it’s aspirational, what plans are in place to take it to reality?

My next blog will extend the important foundational work you’ve done working through these five steps. It will discuss how to look at your brand as it appeals to both logic and emotion, as well as credibility, uniqueness, and ultimately an example branding statement that you can use with your team. Watch for it in two weeks.

As always, your comments, questions, and challenges are welcome.