Obsession with targeting threatens to wreck it all

dm disciplinesSo, yet another report arrives which suggests that charity marketers are not thinking about “the true impact of their communications strategy in the wider marketing context and any effect it may have on their organisation’s reputation”.
Given the coverage over the past 12 months few surely can have been thinking about little else? But, in the meantime, and at a risk of adding yet more words to the growing commentary on this farrago, it might also be worth pausing to think about just why this has come to pass.
Leaving aside the fact that a large part of the media is not exactly direct marketing friendly, I believe that this crisis has appeared as a direct result of an unhealthy concentration on targeting. And the charity sector isn’t alone in this.
Data for a long time has been used to provide information on those customers who are our best prospects, those who can be clearly shown to be the easiest to sell to or get a donation from. But have we lost the plot slightly?
Just because mathematically they deliver the most revenue are we simply being too cold blooded – and as a result ignoring the wider audience who are activated by both good products and customer experiences? Put at its most blunt, data has been used to make more money from those we judge to be most likely to spend it. They are, in marketing speak, our best ‘targets’.
But reducing ‘customers’ to ‘targets’ has, in the longer term, the potential to do serious damage. It has consequences – perhaps unintentional – but consequences nonetheless…and the main one is the damage it does to the relationship a business has with its customers.
Now I know a lot of people hate the very idea of their having a relationship with a business or a brand. It’s an anathema to many. But unless and until we stop thinking about our customers as targets to be ‘hit’, but start to view them as customers with whom we need to engage with the intention to build long term relationships based on trust and mutual benefit, we risk, like the charity sector right now, doing serious damage to our brands and the very people we most rely upon to build them.
Data is a cold blooded weapon in the way it has the potential to create targets, but it also has the potential to allow us to shape our businesses so that they improve the experience that each and every customer has of that business. It’s a power for good, but only if it’s used to measure and enhance customer experience and build overall value.
If we use data to serve the customer better and put the building of positive relationships at its heart, it has the power to transform the customer’s experience. If we’re seen to be just using it to exploit the value of each customer at the simplest level without improving the overall customer experience then the end result will be, at best resentful and unhappy customers; at worst, customers who might well decide that enough is enough and call for (or even just support) curbs on the use of their personal data.
andrew woodgerWe have the choice. But unless we look carefully at how we use data to engage with our customers and measure and optimise all aspects of our relationships as a result, and move well away from the kind of thinking which merely sees them as targets, we risk developing a mind-set which exploits rather than fosters positive experiences. That’s not a positive place to be, for either business or the data industry.

Andrew Woodger is data and planning director at the Purple Agency

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