Thanks to Personalization, I Know I’m Getting Worse!

By | November 23, 2012

Several weeks ago, I posted about a personalized letter I received from my power company telling me that I was among the worst energy users in my neighborhood — using 19% more energy than my neighbors within 1/2 mile of me. In case I didn’t get the hint, there was a lovely bar chart.

Efficient neighbors

All Neighbors


My bar stretched halfway across the page.

The data was correct, I’m sure. I have no reason to doubt that, but I questioned whether data accuracy and personalization, in this sense, was really helping anybody.  After all, I’m home all day because I work from a home office. Ours is also the only house for several miles with a pool.  That doesn’t make me an energy hog.

As a follow-up to that post, I’d like to report that my power company is at it again. Just a few months later, it sent me a follow-up. Guess what? I’m still among the worst offenders. In fact, my energy use is now up to 44% higher than all of my neighbors. You know what else? I still work from home, and since I do most of my work from the only unheated room in the house, I save tons of money (and, oh yes, fuel by the way) by not using the furnace and running a small electric heater faced toward me instead.

I guess nobody else within 1/2 miles is running an electric heater all day, but I would guess they are driving to work, using more fossil fuel than I do, and they likely have a pretty decent environmental footprint at work — probably larger than mine.

But hey, the helpful personalized charts tell me that I’m on pace to use 19% energy than last year, so that’s a good thing. Good grief, if I’m one of the worst offenders this year, can you imagine what they would have sent about me last year if they’d be using this program?

So think before you personalize. Remember, data is just data until you (or your clients) give it some context — and there are real people on the other end of these communications.

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2 thoughts on “Thanks to Personalization, I Know I’m Getting Worse!

  1. Tim Koenigs

    Your story about inappropriate use of variable data would be funny if it wasn’t so alarming. I find your Utility trying to shame you into using less power really intrusive. This is the nanny state run amuck. Next, it will be your water utility demanding to know why your usage is so much higher than your neighbors (duh, you have a pool). This will then be followed by a pool surcharge on your bill. Your church of choice could ask why your contributions are only 80% of the average church member.
    Of course, it doesn’t have to be all bad. Your local liqour store could send you a bar chart showing your average consumption of vodka is 30% greater than your neighbors (again, I’d blame it on the pool) and send you a coupon for 50% off a bottle of Grey Goose! 🙂

    1. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

      It’s scarier than you think then, because if you go to the original post, you’ll see that someone told a story in one of the comments that a friend of his DID get just such a personalized mailer from his water company! Even worse, someone had personalized it further with a handwritten note: “Water PIG!” Seriously funny stuff.

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