If Targeted Marketing Emails Creep Consumers Out, Could They Start Costing Too Much?

Via the Sydney Morning Herald:

I’m not naive. I knew if I signed up for the Everyday Rewards card there would be a record of my spending patterns. You had me with Frequent Flyer points.

So, I put up with your onslaught of generic offers via email. But then, a few days ago at the checkout, I got seduced by an appealing product carefully positioned at eye level.

A day or two later, before I’d even sampled my impulse buy, came this email:

”Hi Anne. Thank you for buying Stephen’s Smoked Sauce last week. Your support could make Stephen the grand prize winner. Watch this week to find out which product will be available right across Australia for you to taste tomorrow …”

I know the trouble Winston Smith got into in 1984 for bucking Big Brother. But it’s over, Woolies. That level of surveillance is too creepy.

This is one of the biggest problems with targeted email marketing campaigns. If you’re tracking your customer’s data and purchasing history, you really need to let them know you’re going to be using it to test out new marketing concepts.

Although marketers now have access to a lot of data, that doesn’t mean that the optimal business strategy is constantly tweaking and testing that data to try and eke out more sales. If you creep your customer out with your level of targeting, all of the data you have collected so far on that customer is worthless. It also puts whatever the lifetime value of a customer is at severe risk – they might unsubscribe from your emails but what if they stop doing business with you because they feel like you’re a bit too creepy with your targeted marketing?

Gmail’s new tabs have drawn flack from email marketers. But anecdotal feedback from friends of mine is that they were surprised at how good Gmail’s filters are. They can clearly identify the different sources of email and I suppose in a way it’s like having rules set up in Outlook. But for marketers trying to build that relationship email-by-email, it is a major issue. You have to constantly be delivering value and not stuff up the relationship at all by creeping out your customer or going for the hard sell too soon.

The level of detail that US store Target goes into enables them to predict if a woman is pregnant and start offering her products she may need during her pregnancy. To my mind, even though consumers are consenting to having their spending monitored – this is a far bigger problem than GCSB surveillance.

Why? Because most countries don’t have a Privacy Commissioner to complain to and the internet is a global system with data stored all over the place. There are also no guarantees that your private information is actually being used the way you consented to it being used. It’s not like a team of privacy officials are going around spot auditing companies collecting all of this data and making sure that potential abuses are thwarted.

In my opinion, if targeted marketing emails based on purchase tracking and website browsing activity linked to your customer ID start creeping consumers out, the bottom could fall out of this “big data marketing” trend. Why should people who like keeping themselves to themselves not have the option of being subjected to monitoring? Should you really have to forgo discounts and notification of specials to escape constant commercial entity surveillance?