Furthering Relationships Without Fueling Distrust

Editorial note: As Janet noted in her last article, she’s just switched ClickZ tracks — from Media Selling to Analyzing Customer Data. For those readers who want to continue reading materials directly about media selling, ClickZ will be running monthly columns by Anne Miller.

It is a basic principle of sales and marketing: The better we understand our customers’ interests, goals, needs, and wishes, the better equipped we’ll be to develop product offerings for those customers and the better equipped we’ll be to sell them to those customers. Pretty straightforward, huh?

In face-to-face selling, this principle is fairly easy to live up to. Listen, ask good questions, pay attention, and make an effort to understand the customer’s world, and you’ll be more effective at closing the sale.

However, when “customers” means not specific, known individuals but demographic profiles or prototypical market segments, the job of knowing and understanding customers gets much more difficult.

Beyond Demographics

We speak in demographic terms (e.g., about men 18-34 who drink beer and buy sports cars), but few among us actually believe that everyone who fits the description will respond to the same marketing messages or visit the same Web sites. To market most effectively, we need to get well beyond basic demographics.

We need to look much more deeply at customer data to understand what makes our customers and prospects act and respond.

The online world has long been touted as the most measurable and targetable advertising vehicle available. We’ve all heard the promise of one-to-one marketing on the Web, of using data mining and customer profiling to deliver personalized and relevant messages to each and every customer.

It’s a compelling promise, a marketer’s utopia, but is it real?

The World of Customer Data

This new weekly column will dig into complex questions about customer data: what can be known; what is really valuable to know; and how site publishers, merchants, and advertisers can take advantage of the current arsenal of customer-analysis tools and techniques to better understand and communicate with customers and prospects.

I’ll be looking at the fast-changing state of the market for customer analysis: who is doing what and how marketers and consumers are responding. I can’t touch on profiling and data mining without moving into privacy issues, so I’ll bring you the latest thinking on consumer privacy in various parts of the world and what those mores and regulations mean to marketers.

And I hope to hear from you, ClickZ readers, as you weigh in on what’s working, what isn’t, and what is coming along next. I’d love to share some of your wish lists as well, hopeful that some enterprising reader will go out and build the solutions you are looking for.

Starting the Discussion

To start, let me first say that as marketers, we at Ryan Whiteman are big fans of profiling, customization, personalization, and anything that makes the customer more real. We recognize, however, that all of us as individual consumers get a little prickly when we feel spied upon or when the profiling gets a bit too intrusive, too personal, or, alternately, insultingly stereotypical. And marketers’ goals are rarely met when the intended customer is annoyed or insulted.

Therein lies the difficulty: How do we take the good idea and execute it in a way that furthers relationships rather than furthering distrust?

It can be done. In fact, it has been done — quite well — by offline marketers for years. How is the online world rising to the challenge? With mixed reviews, I’d say.

Please join me in the coming weeks and months as I explore the range and potential of customer data capture and analysis and how innovative businesses can use the available tools and techniques to better serve customers.

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