Back when doing business on the Internet was new, I consulted in exchange for equity for a lot of start-ups. They had no money. Nobody had any experience. It was a perfect match.
One of them had a great idea. They called themselves Yesmail. Today, Yesmail “offers permission based email marketing solutions” and “has the experience and capabilities to create, build and implement email campaigns that directly support client objectives, whether they are built for revenue generation, brand awareness or community building.”
But back then, it was a simple model: Opt-in email. The simplicity was dazzling and the customer-centricity of the plan was stunning. In these days before RSS feeds, following, liking, or friending, Yesmail offered the average consumer access to sweet deals via e-mail.
As a member of the Yesmail service I could check as many boxes as interested me. If I were in the market for a sports car, a European vacation or an in-home sauna — (Like I said, this was back in the Good Olde Days) — I could identify myself as such and receive e-mail offers from Yesmail advertisers who were looking for me. I got e-mails about new cars, old cars, auto insurance and financing opportunities, all of which were perfectly targeted as I had raised my hand and made myself known to them via the Yesmail database.
But the split second I purchased a vehicle, I never wanted them to darken my inbox again. So I went back to the Yesmail website and unchecked the box next to “Sports Cars.” The e-mails ceased. As much as I did not want to hear from people pitching cars, they wanted nothing to do with me as I was no longer in the market. An ideal connection and disconnection situation.
Alas, like many online services back in the early ’90s, this one was ahead of its time so Yesmail had to – and did – evolve.
Last week, Target announced customized advertising. In a USA Today article last week, Bruce Horovitz reported that Target is launching My TargetWeekly, purported to be a fully customizable version of its weekly ad that appears online and in Sunday newspapers.
“The new version takes the digital ad and lets consumers create customized views, as well as deal alerts for when favorite brands or products are on sale. It aims at the smaller number of hard-to-reach, digitally savvy shoppers – who tend to spend more than others. They’ll decide what they want to know about items relevant to them and get the information online – or on their mobile phones.”
Here we have the seller turning the marketing over to the buyer. Is this the end of data-driven marketing as we know it? Does giving people the power over the medium and the message mean that we no longer need to track, aggregate, slice and dice in order to figure out what people want to buy? Couldn’t we just sit back, let them tell us what they want and sell it to them?
Yes we can!
And then watch in wonder as the competition cleans our profitability clocks with break out top line and bottom line numbers while impressing, exciting and wowing their customers.
Target will allow customers to create customized alerts for unique discounts on specific brands and categories. It will let people customize the weekly ad circular, share coupons with friends on Facebook. All very nifty and very customer centric.
But behind the scenes, Target is undoubtedly gathering a treasure-trove of data about customers’ engagement level, notification choices, and actual purchasing behavior.
Armed with this rich dataset, Target can:
- Identify which products to stock up on
- Identify which products to stock on physical shelves
- Identify which products to recommend to people who didn’t know they’d be interested
- Identify which products to recommend to those who have not self-selected
- And so forth
Target is simply bumping up the frequency and fidelity of the conversation. If it can take advantage of higher mathematics, it will continue to be a threat to Wal-Mart and an example to the rest of us.