When is personal too personal?

In a New York Times article, Charles Duhigg writes about how large corporates have teams trolling through data looking for shopping patterns.

In an often-cited article in the New York Times titled How Companies Learn Your Secrets, Charles Duhigg writes about how large corporates have teams of statisticians trolling through data looking for patterns, specifically shopping patterns.

Duhigg tells a story of how statisticians at Target, a North American retailer, were able to identify to a high degree of accuracy when customers were pregnant purely through their shopping habits. It turns out that expectant mothers were more inclined to purchase particular products such as fragrance free moisturiser. Once they could be fairly confident they knew when women were pregnant, they could target them with advertisements for baby products.

However, they soon came across an issue with regards to privacy. How would people react to being targeted at such a private time of their lives?

The first instance of how this could be a minefield was when an angry man marched into a store demanding to know why Target were sending his school-age daughter coupons for baby clothes. Were they trying to encourage her to get pregnant? Naturally, the store manager apologised profusely. However, a few days later, the manager was informed by a very chastened father that his daughter was indeed pregnant, but hadn’t told her parents. In other words, through her shopping habits, Target knew more about a critical aspect of a young woman’s life than her parents did.

Target also came to realise that pregnancy is an incredibly personal time of someone’s life and that pregnant women were likely to react badly when sent advertisements for pregnancy products. It could come across as Target spying on these women. “It could be a public-relations disaster.”

Their answer to this was simple: mix and match baby products with other seemingly random items that pregnant women would never buy: “We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.”

1:1 marketing campaigns are an incredibly effective way to cut through the clutter of up to 3,000 marketing messages that we are all confronted with on a daily basis. They can go a long way in helping companies to establish a personal connection with their customers. However, keep in mind how your message will be received. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and if you feel that your message could be perceived negatively, you don’t need to abandon it; do as Target did and tweak your message.

Click the following link to read the full New York Times article: http://preview.tinyurl.com/8xqtbuk