Targeting Tactic: Provide Value for Information

I’ve written several columns debating the virtues of targeting when acquiring new customers (for some interesting mail I received on a recent case study, please see the end of today’s column), but one debate I don’t anticipate having is about the value of sending targeted email to customers you’ve already acquired. After consumers have signed up for your mailing list, they expect to receive relevant, timely information — and that’s what they should get.

But for some companies, determining what’s relevant isn’t always easy. An online health store, for instance, wouldn’t want to send a 70-year-old man details about PMS medication, and it wouldn’t want to bombard each customer with every notice. Clearly, gathering some data beyond a simple email address can be a useful tactic. The issue, of course, is how to make it worth the consumer’s while to submit that information.

The Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has come up with a very simple solution. It created the Interactive Travel Planner, an online survey that web site visitors fill out to create a customized itinerary. This user profile also allows (but does not require) visitors to check a box that asks if they want to receive email updates, and the CVB has built a database partly around this opt-in information.

On the consumer end, the process is simple and takes less than five minutes. After clicking on the Interactive Travel Planner link, the consumer spends a minute or two entering in details such as name, address, and whether he or she has visited Daytona Beach before. Then the consumer goes on to click radio buttons or check boxes for options regarding the trip’s purpose, what type of lodging the consumer would prefer, what he or she likes to do to relax, and so on.

After opting (or not) to receive a guide and/or email updates, the consumer presses “Submit” and is presented with a full itinerary. The survey is appealing enough that it draws in about 200 new email addresses per month; the database is now up to about 8,800 people.

“I think people want to participate because it’s different,” says Dan Ryan, director of Internet services. “They’re looking for specific information, and there’s the curiosity factor. They say, ‘Gee, I made that.'”

On the back end, the process is almost as simple and works well for this smaller database. If the consumer asked to receive email, the address is automatically input into a Microsoft Access database. The data then is analyzed by hand because, yes, consumers do fear their privacy will be compromised and sometimes aren’t entirely honest in the surveys.

“Though it was fascinating to learn that both Jabba the Hutt and Jar Jar Binks wanted beachfront hotels in the $50-80 range, it’s safe to say Star Wars characters probably will be not taking a vacation here in the immediate future,” Ryan says. “It makes for interesting reading each month.”

Once the addresses have been checked, those individuals occasionally are sent relevant emails. For example, for Daytona Beach’s upcoming LPGA event, those who noted an interest in golf were sent a message about ticket savings, hotel deals, and how to find out more information. (See a short excerpt here.) Or, when Continental announced a new nonstop flight between Daytona Beach and Cleveland, Ohioans received notification via email.

Granted, this approach won’t work for all companies or organizations. Here, visitors immediately see value in handing over personal data — Ryan says they often fill out the survey multiple times in one sitting — and the database is small enough that using a program such as Access and analyzing data by hand isn’t a heavy drain on resources. But in this case, this basic process works well, as Ryan notes:

“All the technology out there and sometimes the way that works best is secretly powered by the Internet equivalent of a hamster running on one of those wheels.”

A Note to Readers Who Wrote in About

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column on advertising in untargeted mailing lists.

“Very important article, since it flies in the face of opt-in and double opt-in email list providers,” wrote one reader. Another reader wrote, “I think what is doing is definitely spam, by almost anyone’s definition.”

Whoa. Hold on there. I encourage you all to go back and reread the article. is advertising in untargeted lists. These are opt-in databases (humor lists, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type lists, etc.) in which readers who sign up for these typically free lists know the messages contain some short advertising along with the bulk of the text — the joke, the story, what have you. As I stated in the article, was running a short ad at the top of the message. did not buy these addresses from the list owners and send out messages devoted solely to its products.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion. And thanks for keeping those emails coming.

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