I have a deep, philosophical question for you: If I buy stuff online for my dog, does it mean I’m a dog? What about if I buy stuff online for my cat, does it mean I’m a 40-year-old career woman?

Like most of the planet I buy stuff online and I’m more than happy to receive ongoing sales stuff from these ecommerce players – after all, I might actually want to buy something else one day. But don’t you think that in 2012, with etailers armed with sophisticated marketing automation and nurturing tools, that I could be seen as more than the sum of the parts of my past purchases? Isn’t the data supposed to provide insights to help marketers refine their offers to me – not merely allow them to jump to conclusions?

As a case in point, I recently purchased a pair of ladies stilettos in size eight – not for me, I’m a size 11 – from a leading online retailer which has bricks and mortar stores across the nation. Delivery was swift. The shoes reached me beautifully boxed and lovingly enveloped in bubble wrap within a couple of days. I could not have been happier.

Yet that single purchase has triggered an avalanche of cleverly-crafted nurturing, up-selling and cross-selling communication that all completely misses the mark. Each of these communications are based on my purchase history of this one pair of shoes and not the truckload of page views that I would have amassed looking at other stuff in their online store.

So whereas I may be interested in gadgets, music, male apparel and more, the sophisticated marketing automation engine keeps sending me stuff that’s related to female apparel.

It’s been going on for weeks now but as I have no ongoing interest in female apparel, I’m not engaging with the content. Indeed, just this week, the super sophisticated automated marketing tool has recognised my lack of engagement and stepped up its marketing efforts by taking a different tack. Remember my question about whether buying stuff online for a cat means I’m a 40-year-old career woman? As of this week, I’m now receiving clearly-crafted, up-selling and cross-selling communications on kids’ clothing and toys. Talk about jumping to conclusions!

Now I know the marketing automation tool can only be as clever as the people who run it, but when we’re all after the holy grail of customer lifetime value, this company is clearly wasting their marketing efforts on sending me stuff that has no relevance to me when they’ve got a shop full of stuff that they could be selling me.

Of course this etailer is not alone. In a recent experiment I purchased a copy of the insanely popular Fifty Shades of Grey from a leading online book seller and now I’m being bombarded with more of the same. Based on what they’ve been sending me, you’d be surprised to learn that they sold books in any other genre.

While it’s no secret that online retailers use marketing automation tools to help them nurture their customers through to the next sale, don’t you think it’s time to be upfront about it?

What if these cleverly crafted nurturing, up-selling and cross-selling communications were accompanied with a little truth? Something along the lines of: ‘Based on your recent purchase of a pair of black stilettos, we thought you’d also be interested in the following. If you’re not the woman/man/dog we think you are, click here to let us know’. This would give us all instant relief from the mindless cycle of irrelevant nurturing emails.

Of course, all of this may be immaterial as ‘do not track’ (DNT) gathers momentum. At the end of May, Microsoft surprised the industry by announcing that Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 will have DNT turned on by default which means consumers have to actively switch tracking on. If other web browsers follow suit and adopt the DNT mindset, then marketers will have to come up with some pretty compelling offers to make consumers switch the DNT off and allow you to track their every move. And I actually don’t think this is a bad thing.

At the same time, given the right tools, consumers may choose to build their own their profiles and control what they reveal about themselves. In return, marketers deliver tailored ads and special offers for products that are actually of interest them.

As more and more commerce is conducted online, it’s going to be critical for marketers to refine their marketing automation efforts. Marketing automation done well and with consumer consent is manna from heaven. It’s not only good business practice but will deliver customer lifecycle value.

 

Simon van Wyk
BY Simon van Wyk ON 24 July 2012
Founder, HotHouse Interactive. Tweet him @Hot_House