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If you have the data, does it always make sense to use it?

by Candice Russell | December 8, 2011 | 4 Comments

Normally by the second week of December my family has a stack of holiday shopping catalogs that is over two feet high. Our longstanding Thanksgiving and Black Friday tradition is to sit down with these catalogs—each person armed with a pad of sticky notes in the color of his or her choice—to mark each item that we want to add to our Christmas wish lists. Every year I find items in these catalogs that I had no idea existed, but some of them make their way to the top of my list!

My son William has participated with his own sticky note color since he was four, and he really enjoys this catalog treasure hunt. So this year when William asked “Where are all of the catalogs?” I started to look around and he had a point. We had very few by Thanksgiving (“Maybe they are coming next week?”), but now it is almost the second week of December and we have fewer than fifteen total catalogs. I asked my husband if he had been surreptitiously throwing them away in an attempt to curtail our holiday tendency to overbuy, but he claims he has not.

Are marketers relying too much on what they can easily measure?

As I think through our catalog dilemma (it truly is a dilemma since we rely on catalogs for gift ideas) I believe I understand why we have been taken off of so many lists. In the past when we ordered from catalogs we would call the 800 number, and the very nice woman on the phone (it is always a woman) would ask us to “identify the ID on the back of your catalog”. With that quick feedback the company knew exactly which catalog prompted us to place our order. But, for the past few years we have instead gone to the company Website printed on the catalog to place our order. We like the email that online ordering instantly generates and also the shipping updates that are automatically sent to us. The only time we provide a catalog number is if it is directly tied to an extra discount or promotion, which is rarely the case.

My family’s buying behavior leads me to wonder, are the companies that market to my family measuring the wrong data? They know that we are ordering online as opposed to calling the 800 number, but are they making the leap that we would rather be marketed to online, or that we are shopping through Internet searches? Do they believe they could more cost effectively market to my family by eliminating the catalog?

Consumers prefer Direct Mail—and not just my family

A new Consumer Most Preferred Channel Study from Epsilon shows that “Fifty percent of U.S. consumers prefer direct mail to email” and “60% said they enjoy checking their physical mailboxes, highlighting an emotional connection to postal mail.” I think that marketers need to balance the data they can acquire against market trend and consumer behavior studies. Or they could simply ask me. I would tell them right away that my family loves the catalogs, and that we are feeling sad to have been cut off so abruptly and without warning.

What are your thoughts on catalogs, Direct Mail, and consumer data in general? As marketers, are we using data that is automatically generated, as opposed to thinking through what we really want to know and doing what is necessary to obtain that data? Please let me know your thoughts—and if you are a marketer, feel free to send your catalogs my way.

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  • http://www.printmailconsultants.com Mike Porter

    In this particular case, it wasn’t the existing data that caused the catalogers to miss the boat, but the data they didn’t have. A simple field on last year’s online order form could have inquired about the usefulness of paper catalogs. The answers would have revealed how much business was generated from paper catalogs and how many sales came straight from the website or other channels. An alternative might have been to survey all the buyers who placed orders online after last year’s holiday season. The company had all the email addresses already. It would have been an easy task that could have generated plenty of information that might have been useful. If sales are down far enough and attributed to the lack of catalogs, maybe the company will bring them back.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/quine Douglas Quine

    Data errors and the misguided decisions they drive are an unintended consequence of the ubiquitous automation we see around us. I have a passion for data quality and have compiled a “Rogues Gallery” with dozens of examples of errors from the marketplace. I believe that a “data ombudsman” is needed in each organization to serve as a focal point for such issues.  They take ownership of the problems, identify patterns and root causes, and guide corrective action. I’m available to help.

  • Candice Russell

    Thank you Michael and Douglas for your comments. Michael—I love your reference to “art” and “science.” It really drives home the point that data is just data. Douglas—Can you share your “Rogues Gallery”? That sounds very interesting.

  • Michael Calderwood

    Great blog, Candice.  You hit on a critical point - has the art of thinking been replaced with the science of data analysis?  I’ve noticed similar types of things - from making travel reservations to buying online, to financial planning exercises where past historical data se
    ems to supercede new information I have provided. So how do we adjust our approaches to ensure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water?  Or help those who market to us realize there’s still a baby, but (s)he’s just getting older and has evolved needs or interests?  Data is just data until it’s turned into information - and information becomes valuable when it tells a complete story. Happy holidays to all!