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The Danger in Getting It Wrong

Barbara Nelson Last Updated June 2nd, 2020
The Danger in Getting It Wrong

Getting it Wrong

It’s happened twice in the past week. I’m quickly browsing e-commerce sites, and I inadvertently click on a product that is annoyingly too close to the “next” arrow. Voila, within six hours an email appears in my inbox featuring the product I’m not interested in. That, and about 20 more products that look exactly like the product I’m not interested in. Twenty times the annoyance. Twenty times less likely to ever return to that site.

Those in data-driven marketing know how it all works. It’s the supposed targeting and presumed relevance that result in a mind-numbing quantity of monochromatic look-a-like products I’m told are “so me, I must buy!” It sends me heading for my favorite command: DELETE.

They missed the mark. They shouldn’t have tried what they couldn’t pull off.

The Danger

There’s a lot being written and discussed these days regarding marketing to the segment of one. Good in theory, yes. Application? Maybe just not yet. Artificial intelligence often takes too many liberties in the intimacy of the relationship with the consumer. It can often go against established social and psychological norms, jeopardizing a brand’s reputation in the process. Per the Winterberry Group’s Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing – First Look for 2018 report, 41% of U.S. consumers have abandoned a company because of poor personalization and lack of trust, something they estimate has cost marketers $756 billion[i].

Targeting, if done correctly, creates a stronger affinity for the brand and product being advertised. But what if the ad misses its mark? The impact on the non-targets is quite interesting. Non-distinctive viewers (mainstream) have been shown to dislike advertisements targeting others more than distinctive viewers (subgroup interests) disliked ads targeting others[ii].

Consumers in small subgroups and sectors are accustomed to seeing ads for the mass market, seeking what they need in the marketplace and appreciative of ads that break the norm, appearing more relevant to them. But for mainstream consumers, ads that are obviously not targeted toward them stand out clearly, quickly diminishing any persuasive nature the ads were intended to deliver.

Bottom line: if you’re going to target your ad, especially to a niche market, you’d better hit the mark. The more finely tuned and targeted the ad, the greater the importance of delivering the right message to the right person at the right time.

Making it Work

If you hit your mark, targeting works. How might one stay out of the danger zone while improving relevance for the consumer? A few recommendations are offered below:

  • Start with a solid, meaningful and effective segmentation system. The segments allow for a degree of relevance and personalization that mass marketing cannot offer, yet are not so targeted that they would turn off non-targets. An IBM global study on the state of marketing found 65% of top marketers use a segmentation system to understand consumers and drive marketing initiatives. This compared to 49% of other marketers[iii]. Clearly, segmentation is working for the top marketers.
  • Verify the accuracy of the data being used for targeting. The fastest path to a “miss” is using out-of-date or inaccurate data. And in today’s world of rapidly exploding application of artificial intelligence in marketing, one wrong piece of data can be exploded exponentially and proliferated throughout the marketplace. If you’re unsure of the accuracy, don’t use it for micro-targeting. Step back a level to your segmentation system until you have the accurate data that will create meaningful and effective communications with the consumer.
  • Make good use of the customer journey. It’s a journey, and journeys are made up of many small steps. Small steps are typically less likely to be missteps than giant leaps. By starting with broader strokes that provide relevance while not overstepping, you’re much less likely to end up in the danger zone, breaking trust and adding to the $756 billion loss from poor personalization.

It is indeed all about people-based marketing. People are emotional beings, entrenched in psychological and social norms, all of which impact their reactions to marketing. To achieve success, marketers must execute with care and tact, always keeping the impact on the target – and non-target – in mind.

[i] Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing – First Look for 2018, Bruce Biegel, Senior Managing Director, Winterberry Group.

[ii] Nontarget Markets and Viewer Distinctiveness: The Impact of Target Marketing on Advertising Attitudes, Jennifer L. Aaker, Anne M. Brumbaugh and Sonya A. Grier, Journal of Consumer Psychology.

[iii] The State of Marketing 2013, IBM’s Global Survey of Marketers, IBM Corporation.

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