Being a part of our consumer world today means buying things. Whether those things are necessities like groceries, little luxuries like oil changes, or bigger luxuries like marathon registrations, we earn money and then spend (and save!) it to continue enjoying our current existence.
On the other side of each of these purchasing events are companies that are continually trying to get us to buy more and more. One weapon in their arsenal? Data. On us. And it’s being deployed more and more against us by marketing teams. Quite simply, the more companies know about our buying habits (or really about virtually any aspect of our lives), the better marketers can understand (and profit from!) our wants and needs as we participate in our consumer society.
Data Driven Marketing Is Now Everywhere
A few years ago it wasn’t uncommon for big companies to be using these methods. With the ability to track our purchases over months and even years, they would have predictive analytic departments within their corporate headquarters to determine what to offer us next to increase our spending in their stores.
For some awesome insight into these practices, check out Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business where he gets unprecedented access to Target Corp’s predictive analytics department. Read our review of The Power of Habit here.
But Now The Little Guys Are Getting In, Too!
Like Our Local Car Dealer
When we first got my car, we took it to the local dealer to regular maintenance like oil changes and service. It was convenient and they actually had a decent rewards program that got us 10% off sticker prices and would occasionally email us coupons. When the only honest service advisor left, I got sick of dealing with the sleazy ones and my car hasn’t been in there for over a year and a half.
But I still get emails from the dealership service department that read:
“Your current mileage: 59,841
You are due for your 60,000 mile service.”
And they were eerily accurate, to within 100 miles or so on the odometer. (Well, at least until I started biking to work and Mr PoP started driving my car most of the time.) Even a year after I stopped taking my car there for service, those emails were still nearly spot on with their mileage estimates.
Or Road Race Organizers
I like to run. And a few times a year, I pay for the privilege of running 26 miles with a bunch of other folks. (Call me crazy, but it’s fun!)
The thing is, there are a lot of races out there (more and more all the time according to WSJ), so the ones you’ve run before will do whatever they can to get you to register for the same race again the next year. But a recent email promoting a race I’ve run before went a bit over the top. Right in the email reminding me that race registration is open is a big ol’ picture of me, taken at last year’s race, right around mile marker 8 or 9.
For a split second I was horrified that this (not all that flattering) picture of me was potentially sent out to thousands of people. I know I signed away rights to any images from the race when I registered (part of the deal), but really? This was not a good picture. Definitely not race marketing quality at all.
You see, there’s a difference between what you think you look like when you run and what you actually look like when you run. I’ve seen race pictures of myself. I know I’m a lot closer in looks to the bottom picture here than the top.
And that’s when it hit me. This picture email was only sent to me. What they surely did was use their database of photos, emails, and past race numbers for a really spiffy mail merge sending past participants a picture of themselves happily running the race. Wouldn’t more people sign up again if reminded (oh so vividly) of how much fun they had the last time?
Has A Line Been Crossed?
I don’t know about you guys, but it feels to me like it’s one thing when Target sends me Colgate coupons knowing it’s the brand I buy most often, and feels like another entirely when a car dealer is keeping track of how many miles I drive or a race organizer is sending me pictures of my gross sweaty self. (Mr PoP – The picture’s actually not that gross, it’s very clearly the early part of the race. You should see her at mile 26!)
To me, those are just a bit too personal. But maybe some people love these types of marketing? The car dealer’s emails are convenient reminders and the race email with your picture in it is “too cool!”
What do you think? Is data driven marketing cool and convenient or just plain creepy? Where do you draw the line?