More Personalization Run Amuck
By Heidi Tolliver-Walker on September 18th, 2012
Recently, I posted about how marketers wanting to use data to engage customers and improve ROI need to understand more than just what their customers do. They have to understand why they do it. I received the perfect example in my mailbox the other day.
The mailing came from my power company with some helpful observations about my power usage compared to those of my neighbors within a half-mile radius. There were three lines on the bar chart:
Big, bold letters — YOU.
I am, apparently, the worst of the worst when it comes to energy. My energy usage, I have now discovered, is 19% higher than everybody else’s. In case I didn’t get the message, there was a box next to the bar chart that said: “How You’re Doing: You used more than average!”
Gee. . . thanks.
This is a great example of how marketers should to be careful about using data out of context. They may have the numbers, but what do they mean?
In my case, I work from home nearly 100% of the time. Therefore, I am running the heat, the electric, and the like throughout the day. We rarely eat out, so I’m also cooking at home rather than spreading my energy footprint across fast-food chains and local restaurants. After school and in the evenings, we tend to do family activities rather than going out of the home to high-energy-use entertainment. We are also only one of two families in that radius with a pool. In other words, just because we are a high-energy-use home doesn’t mean we’re a high-energy-use family.
All of these factors make the energy comparison largely irrelevant, and the way the copy was written, actually insulting. The company would have done well to consider the impact of the wording and the comparison on the wide variety of its customer base and how, for certain segments, the copy might have been worded differently in order to achieve the same result (lower energy use) without the sting. For example, it might have eliminated the “How you’re doing” line and reworded “You used more than average” to something like, “Are you in a high-use home?”
The moral of the disaster is, when producing data-driven documents for your customers, encourage them to think about not just what their customers are doing, but why they are doing it. If there are key variables they don’t know, they might want to think through the copy carefully and adjust wording to achieve the marketing goals while minimizing the opportunity for gaffs. Otherwise, their personalization can have opposite the intended effect!