Data mining without the privacy baggage

Many a marketer has turned a wistful if not greedy eye upon bank databases. Therein lies untold potential to learn who buys what in order to tempt people with relevant offers.

The problem, of course, is privacy. Even if conscience permitted—conscience having proven, historically, to be remarkably plastic where profits are concerned—the United States Government frown upon banks that share customer data with outsiders.

But couldn’t there be a best of both worlds? A way that bank data could be used to serve clients and marketers without compromising the law and/or creeping anyone out?

When it comes to credit and debit card purchases, a company by the name of Cardlytics may have found a way. Imagine viewing your online bank statement and, right under a line showing a dining-out purchase, seeing a discreet, clickable line offering you a restaurant deal. You can click on it, ignore it or, if you prefer, opt out of such offers on your statement. If you choose to click on and accept the offer, you needn’t print a coupon. Just visit the restaurant and use your card. A rebate will appear on your statement.

The approach already legal muster and, properly presented, avoids the creep-out effect. Merchants provide offers, but the bank, not the merchant, posts them. The only information merchants receive is total redemptions—no names attached. Meanwhile, bank customers see a value-added offer facilitated by their bank (who, needless to say, happens to be allowed statement access) and not from merchants (who, needless to say, happen not to be).

Cardlytics offers a secure system that passes regulatory muster. Bank of America and sundry other, conservative financial institutions are already onboard.

The end result gives merchants an opportunity to target, banks an opportunity to add value, and consumers an opportunity to save on products and services they use. All within the law, and all in a way which shouldn’t creep out anyone but the most paranoid, die-hard conspiracy theorist.

Privacy, Paranoia, Pragmatism

Some privacy concerns are legit. I don’t want to be in a Nigerian money scammer’s database any more than you do.

Yet not all privacy paranoia is legitimate. Many people simply misunderstand how database marketing works. They imagine Peeping Tom-like marketers poring over their individual information. They are unaware that what ethical marketers (unethical ones are another matter) pore over is amassed data, where names are used not for spying but for distribution.

Privacy concerns existed with direct mail, long before the Internet, but didn’t gather much steam until the 1990s. Before, an effective, oft-used sales letter opener was, “If the list where I found your name is an indication, you’re the kind of person who appreciates…” No more. Today, an admission that you found someone’s name on a list—any list—or that you know anything about your reader can land you in PR hell.

Of course, legitimate data use needn’t be a threat. On the contrary, it helps marketers focus resources where they are more likely to pay out, and helps consumers receive messages more likely to be of interest to them.

But fear is emotional, and emotion rarely responds to information and logic. Good luck telling consumers that their name is but one among millions, or that being on a qualified list benefits them. Better to enact and publish policies that reassure, whether or not they appear needful from the marketer’s perspective. Such include not sharing customer data with outside organizations, and allowing customers to opt out of receiving communications by mail or email (and promptly honoring opt-out requests).

The days when one merchant could obtain from another a list of people who purchased related items are all but gone. As a marketer, I see that as good and bad. It makes targeting and prospecting harder. On the other hand—and here’s a maxim that’s as old as direct mail—your most valuable list is your own customer list. You will always have that. If anything, privacy concerns force us to treat customers so well that they actively opt onto it. That’s not a bad thing.

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Posted in Marketing by Matt. 1 Comment

How to create the next “Will It Blend?” viral video

Making promotional videos that go viral is a cinch. You need do only three things:

1. Create a visual presentation so compelling that people WANT to watch it. It can be funny, dramatic, enigmatic or what-have-you. If you’re lucky enough to have a product with a visibly demonstrative advantage, make that your compelling visual. That way you won’t just attract viewers; you’ll catalyze sales.

2. Attract the kind of viewer who likes to share and forward videos. This is totally out of your control. Which means you must also…

3. Have incredible luck and timing on your side. Luck and timing are rather difficult to quantify, much less have on purpose. But there is a strong correlation between luck and the number of attempts made. In other words, don’t quit after just one try.

The “Will It Blend?” videos provide a classic case in point.

A small Utah company by the name of Blendtec made a premium blender. Trouble was, few people were willing to pay a premium price of $400 for a blender they’d never heard of.

The “Will It Blend?” campaign was born on the day George Wright, Blendtec’s VP of marketing and sales, happened to spy CEO Tom Dickson testing a blender by feeding a 2×2 inch wooden board into it. Wright reserved, purchased a lab coat and safety glasses, and then picked up a few items he felt would look cool being fed into a blender—including marbles, a 12-pack of Diet Coke, a McDonald’s meal, a rotisserie chicken and a garden rake.

The rest is history. Today, an estimated half of all Internet users have viewed an online “Will It Blend?” video. Half of those clicked through to the company website. Of course, you and I both know that hits are all well and good; what about sales? According to Blentec, about 15% of visitors to the site have purchased a unit.

Many agree with me that the campaign reached its acme when Dickson fed an iPhone and, later, an iPad into the blender.  Not only did those video pull record views of 7 million and counting, the remains of the “blended” iPhone and iPad sold on eBay for $800 and $901, respectively. Not a bad price for a pile of dust and broken parts. Blendtec donated the money to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City.

You may question my allegation that Blendtec benefitted from luck. You might say they benefitted from the application of sheer genius. You would be right as to the latter. But as to the former, it’s easy to disclaim luck after the fact. But before results are in, you’re never quite sure if you’re going to have a hit or an embarrassing yawner on your hands.

The Value of Showmanship

We’re taught never to judge by appearances. We all do it anyway.

Our all-too-human tendency to judge a book by its cover surely is unfortunate from a social justice standpoint, but from a marketing standpoint it offers an opportunity not to be missed. Namely, the opportunity to dress up your product or service to look the part so that customers will be more likely to buy it, both metaphorically and literally.

Not long ago I had to deal with a clogged drain. Since my otherwise handy sink plunger had proved powerless against this particular clog, I went looking for the meanest, toughest, beefiest industrial strength drain opener I could find. Amid two shelves of brands at The Home Depot, one contender stood out. Its authoritative black bottle certainly impressed, but the coup de grâce was that the bottle was packaged within a resealable plastic bag that was plastered with warnings.

Now, come on. The beefy bottle and childproof cap provided a perfectly safe seal. The bag was nothing more than showmanship. Its sole purpose was to create an impression of contents so dangerously nasty—and, therefore, effective—as to make even the most defiant clog quake with fear.

It worked. I had no choice. I had to buy that brand. Resealable bag and all.

Good showmanship that impresses is part of good marketing. That’s why airline crews dress in crisp, military-style uniforms. You and I both know that attire doesn’t fly a plane, yet most of us would feel less secure if our pilot sported a tank top and cutoffs. It’s why Del Monte makes Milk Bone dog treats in the shape of little, cartoonish femurs. Don’t try telling me that it’s your dog who finds the design charming. It’s why bank presidents wear suits, symphony orchestra players but not rappers don tuxes and formals, the Raid bug killer logo appears in bold, no-nonsense yellow type over a black shield (underscored by a lightning bolt, no less), horror movies have creepy soundtracks, Tropicana sticks a straw in an orange, iPhone packaging evokes an altar, and the Secret brand deodorant logo is set in a script font instead of, say, Stencil or Impact.

Even nature gets in on the showmanship act. As far as anyone can tell, a peacock’s big, colorful tail, a lion’s stately mane, and a gorilla’s elegant silver back — all otherwise useless or even arguable liabilities in the wild — serve to impress.

Regardless of what you bring to market, how you package it matters. Endow your product, store or service with the kind of look and feel—showmanship—that telegraphs “This is the real thing.” You’ll sell more.

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Posted in Marketing by Matt. No Comments