Data is knowledge. Knowledge is nothing without understanding.
Sorry to start with a couple of well-worn clichés, but just because they’re well-worn doesn’t mean they’re not true. As marketing data segmentation has become more sophisticated in recent years, brands and their marketing agencies have become more interested in targeting communications to ever-more ‘granular’ audiences. They’ve apparently identified which clusters of consumers buy which products for which ‘occasion’. They can apparently create products for every possible combination of person and occasion, ‘picking them off’ like fish in a barrel, apparently.
Consumer clusters or segments are given elaborate names that aim to reduce their actual complexity into a simple soundbite – usually so the FD or CEO can understand. Communications flow charts are created to demonstrate how clever we are at maximising our effective reach and minimising wastage. This is going on in meeting rooms and agencies all over the country.
So where are the campaigns that really strike a chord, that truly resonate and somehow reflect me, my family, my preferences? The only brand I can think of that does this consistently is Tesco Clubcard; but to be fair it has a massive advantage in that, after my mortgage, I’ve spent more money in Tesco in the last few years than anywhere else. They should be good. But even there, it’s all very functional – lots of well-defined money-off coupons and a massive selection of ‘reward partners’ mean there’s no reason not to redeem the vouchers they send.
Anyway, to the point (finally). In my experience, I reckon that the vast majority of companies trying to be more granular in their marketing seem unclear on the twin concepts that
- marketing is about real people, not data points or segments or clusters
- real people are really complicated, and their opinions, preferences, behaviours change over time (often without warning)
Perhaps ‘unclear on the concept’ is harsh. People are really complicated, but business have to keep things simple. Reducing whole markets to a few killer attribute statements or purchasing dynamics is bound to be an incomplete approach. Tesco can only be so ‘accurate’ because it’s (a) massive – with vast resources at its disposal, and (b) has unrivalled data about what we buy.
Nevertheless, there are often only a few key things you need to know to make a very decent start. For instance, if you’re trying to sell baby-related products, you should really know the baby’s date of birth. I know it’s not often that clear, but when it is, when there are some clearly identifiable attributes that can shape a relationship between brand and consumer. Usually consumers will be happy to give a couple of pieces of information, if they understand that means communications from the brand will actually be relevant.
A couple of years ago I requested a brochure from Eurocamp. I’ve loved Eurocamp holidays since I was a child, as my family went to almost a dozen different campsites from Brittany to Tuscany over a number of years. I was a campsite rep for them in the French Pyrenées as a student. They continue to send me emails and direct marketing, but they’ve never asked me anything to try and refine their offers to me. Last month we had some Direct Mail… they are offering us a ‘loyalty bonus’, but in fact we’ve never booked with them.
To make their mailings more responsive, for instance, they might want to ask if I have children, and how old they are. For some reason they seem to think I have toddlers, at least that’s the impression they give me.
They’ve gone as far as personalising the mailing with a big, bold your holiday recommendations, but what’s inside is largely irrelevant to me and my my family.
It’s all about ME, apparently. So despite the fact that our children are now nearly 9 and 5 years old, Eurocamp is urging me to consider their Parcs with ‘best toddler pitches‘ that are ‘perfect for babies and toddlers‘.
Seemingly without having learnt how to use apostrophe’s, they offer us flights from Bristol (ok…) but also, on a subsequent panel, from Bournemouth Airport. They know where I live in Tetbury, yet they offer me convenient flights from Bournemouth, over 2 hours and 100 miles away. Birmingham, Cardiff and even Heathrow are more accessible airports from my postcode, as 10 minutes on Google Maps reassured me!
Last week I got another email…
I’d love to avoid the school holiday crowd. BUT I CAN’T travel in June. Please stop trying to make me. I know only too well how expensive holidays are in the school holidays.
I wouldn’t mind this so much, but they seem to have gone to lots of effort to demonstrate that this is a personalised message for me and my family. If they can include flights from different airports, why not other images? And if they really want to personalise things, at least ask me if I can travel during school term times.
I often use the analogy of conversations at a party to describe marketing communications. If in real life you met someone at a party who started off talking about me and my toddlers, I would fairly quickly ‘correct’ them about my children’s ages. The other person would adjust what they were saying appropriately, and we’d carry on talking.
Real people are complicated, but marketing to them needn’t be that complicated. Ask the right questions, pay attention to the answers, and then demonstrate that you have been paying attention by talking about something relevant.
Eurocamp have never asked me any questions. There’s no conversation, just them banging on about cheaper holidays in June and great toddler clubs. I’ve stopped listening.