Terrible Targeting for Mass Marketing Morons

  |  April 6, 2011   |  Comments

Most traditional mass-market approaches are hugely inefficient and wasteful, like direct mail. Witness Chase bank.

OK, I'll admit it…the title for this month's column is a little crotchety, but I'll be honest, I've gotten to a point in my career where I feel there's just no good excuse for poor targeted marketing. Sure, once upon a time everybody was doing the same thing. Everybody was married to the idea of using simple reach and frequency models to get their messages out to as many people as they could as often as they could. And I'm not even going to debate whether these models worked or not because we can all cite examples, especially for branding campaigns, where the results of the campaign indicated a definite uptick in sales or awareness.

But I also contend that most traditional mass-market approaches are hugely inefficient and wasteful. Let's take direct mail as an example. It still boggles my mind to consider that a marketer would build a direct response campaign around the promise of getting a 1 percent response rate. I can't help but think that if these marketers were able to better control the targeting parameters of the campaign and send mail to those people who had expressed even a vague interest in the offer that these same marketers could double or even triple their campaign results.

Sure, once upon a time getting that kind of data went well-beyond the pale. Most direct mail marketers had to settle for taking the word of the companies who sold mailing lists that the mail would be sent to people who kinda matched the target audience the marketers needed to reach. More often, the campaign planning didn't get too far beyond trying to reach "everybody."

The reason I bring this all up is because I am genuinely horrified with the current direct mail marketing campaign that Chase bank is employing for the Ink business card campaign. You've seen the ads on television where small businesses gush about how having this great credit card gave them lots of options and made it possible for them to run a business while getting cash back for all their purchases. I run a small business, so it has some passing relevancy (apart from the fact that I try to avoid using credit cards at all costs).

During the past month, I've started to receive direct mail pieces from Chase encouraging me to enroll for its great card. At first I received an offer sent directly to me. Then my wife received an offer under my business name because we share the same address. I then received a few more pieces based on variations of my name. Um…getting colder.

Last week I received one of the mailers addressed to the former owner of my home. It's worth pointing out that I have lived in my home for over 10 years now. It's also worth mentioning that I purchased my home from this man's widow! Really Chase? What kind of campaign results are you getting from the "formerly living" crowd?

Finally, a few days ago, I received another missive addressed to a business that used to occupy this address. Over 12 years ago.

Apart from getting my dander up, it brought to mind several things that those of us who normally dwell on the digital side of the fence can take away with us:

  1. If you're going to use an outside mailing list (direct mail or email), you should first know something about its pedigree. If a list has decade-old dead addresses all over it, you can only assume they've done a lousy job of cleaning and updating it on a regular basis. If I were the Chase direct marketing manager I would fire my list company as fast as I could. They are obviously selling bottom of the barrel data and, apart from the number of dead trees that Chase is leaving in its wake, it's not going to get even a tiny bit of ROI from many of the addresses on these lists.
  2. If your only targeting criteria is that the recipient of your message has a pulse (or used to!), then you're already in trouble. There's no point in reaching "everybody" anymore. We can now thin-slice consumers into many smaller segments that allow us to better match need and interest with our offers. Spend a little more on researching your audience and less on buying media and you'll generally run a more efficient campaign.
  3. Lose the "one size fits all" marketing mentality. To have a company like Chase send the same marketing message out to every business owner is about as absurd as running a restaurant that only has one item on the menu. When was it determined that every business has exactly the same needs? Oh wait…never. Because businesses are as unique as the people who run them they can also be sorted into different segments. Bottom line, create campaigns that allow you to identify and then reach specific segments of the overall audience. Send a different and targeted message to each one. Make it about them and meeting their needs.

With just a little targeting common sense, online or off, marketers can actually reach the right people with the right message (at the right time) without wasting gobs of money, time, and natural resources.

OK, rant over.

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Rob Graham

Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.

A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.

When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.

He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.

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