Respect for the Database

No Junk Mail

All I need to give you the warranty is your email and home address, she said. We need to add you to our database.

I was purchasing a pair of sunglasses, it was almost a year ago, I think. I said a firm "no" to the request.

She seemed personally offended, chin quivering a little. A young store clerk just doing her job.

And here's the first problem – there is no "I'm just doing my job" as in going through the moves. Business processes need to adjust. Because customers have a different idea of what that process would look like. The mere act of purchasing an item does not constitute a blanket permission to add me to a list.

Nowhere in the best of cases does it say: Please flood me with irrelevant offers; and while you're at it, do sell my information to as many others as possible.

It is personal for the individual you are asking.

Permission marketing is still "in"

Since we've been talking about fashion, the whole idea of obtaining permission in still in vogue. When we revisited permission marketing (July 2008), we talked about several studies, dating quite far back:

  • Columbia sociologists Lazarsfeld and Katz estimated that word of mouth was seven times more powerful that newspaper or magazine ads in motivating brand-switching as early as 1955.
  • In 1975, the Roper Organization showed that word of mouth was mentioned as the best source of information about new products and services 67% better than advertising at 53% or editorial content at 47%. Now that is interesting information for those of us who think media relations should be the stronger component of integrated marketing strategies.
  • A 2003 Cap Gemini study (cited by AdAge in TV Ads Don't Sell Cars) into the influences on car purchases showed that 71% of the 700 respondents pointed to word of mouth compared to only 15% for television ads. That is probably easier to explain – think about it, who would admit they buy a car from a TV ad? Would you? Do you? McKinsey estimated that word of mouth drives two thirds of the US economy. [hat tip to Mark Earls in Herd]

Given that more of us are replacing our trust in traditional authorities with trust in each other, how would you change the way you do marketing?

List building needs respect

I'm still convinced many marketers haven't really made the proper connection with what obtaining permission means – how you execute it. It's not just the opt-in vs. opt-out deal. There are, after all, different options for list building (November 2009):

Even when you work on your to do list, start it with an objective in mind. What is it that you want to accomplish this year, month, quarter, today?

Rather than having  a scattered compilation of items, if you put some thought into your goal, then the list becomes the process to get you there.

For marketing to be successful, you need to have repeatable processes that you can measure and tweak depending on the social situation and context and get you results. The one key consideration is that of attracting and retaining the right people to your conversation.

Hence the role of the list. What are some ways to having a customer and prospect list?

  • building – you start from close to zero
  • creating – you have data on customers and prospects
  • renting – typically trade publications that rent their subscriber lists
  • buying – vendors abound

Have you noticed how many of the social networks you belong to are focusing on list building? You guessed right, that's where the money is… but not just in random lists.

Lists, like all data sets, need to have a rhyme or reason to make sense and yield results.

I put the dates next to my own posts quoted here, because I think it's grounding to see how long we've been talking about this topic. Yet, the answer seems to still be: Give me your contact details so I can add you to my database.

Which often means you have an undifferentiated, smorgasbord collection of information that tells you nothing about the actual people behind the data.

Respect your database, give it the attention it deserves, earn the trust of the people in it – and it will give you opportunity to make actual connections.


Is it just me, or are organizations still leaving money on the table on account of poor data gathering and segmentation practices?

Surely, with new technology available, not to mention the wealth of information shared about what works, we have overcome the biggest hurdles. Where are the issues that are keeping businesses stuck on capturing data at all costs without defining the relationship to meaning and people?

And if you're still sending a newsletter without the ability for people to unsubscribe from it: Stop that right now. It's an abuse of your list, and it's illegal.

Instead, figure out how to write a newsletter that will be read. Make it valuable, relevant, anticipated, and thus welcome.

The other side of the junk mail coin is junk data. And that just lulls your business into a false sense of security, leading to all kinds of disappointments down the road. Including the inability to sustain a business with commerce.


[image by Rupert Ganzer]

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0 responses to “Respect for the Database”

  1. Great article… I have been struggling with creating a database and tuning it into a marketing machine.
    You nailed it when you said “For marketing to be successful, you need to have repeatable processes that you can measure and tweak depending on the social situation and context and get you results.”
    Instead of having 1 master opt in list, you need the ability to segment and consolidate lists in order to deliver a relevant message. That is definitely easier said than done and those that figure out how to do it effectively are building relationships with their customers.

  2. Totally, Valeria. A list of 1,000 people who trust you, see value in your offering, are receptive to more information, and likely to share with family and friends is more powerful than a list of 10,000 people at whom you can throw your latest, instantly recyclable print campaign.
    Forcing opt-out is a great way to tell people they are just numbers to you. (And making it difficult to opt-out is a great way to turn otherwise indifferent passersby into mortal enemies.) -K

  3. The other thought on that is organizations often let employees walk out without a second glance – situations like layoffs, lack of engagement in the work place, etc. – and the customer knowledge walks with them… even though it’s a company list.

  4. the thing is it takes time to build a good list – and by good, I mean a valuable list for all, including those on the list. Far easier to rent or buy… there are “best practices” about attrition on those lists. Which, of course, totally miss the point of having a relationship with the people you reach out to in the first place.

  5. I know its annoying getting spam emails but I think we just have to deal with it in this day and age. Brands and businesses are always after the elusive database and sometimes if they make the content useful it can actually be worth getting but for the most part a 1 second click of the “Spam button” and they are gone for good. No big deal

  6. you must not get much love in the mail. And another consideration – coming from an agency, this comment could be indicative of adopted practices… no big deal, as you say (everyone does it, right?).

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