Three Big Lessons from Big Data Fails

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Big data has many implications for marketers, including better insights into the customer experience and more opportunities for personalization along the sales funnel. But with so much information at our fingertips, there is also greater potential for things to go wrong. Thankfully, missteps by major brands can be lessons for us all. Here are three learnings to consider before using consumer data in your next campaign:

  1. Avoid using data that’s not critical for achieving your objective

Marketers should be mindful of the data they’re collecting and how it will help meet campaign objectives. In other words, don’t collect data just because you can. OfficeMax learned this lesson the hard way after mailing a letter addressed to “Mike Seay, Daughter Killed in Car Crash.” The recipient, an off-and-on customer of OfficeMax, had indeed lost his daughter a year prior to an auto accident. As it turns out, the mailing list came from a third-party provider but the PR disaster that followed placed all eyes on OfficeMax.

  1. Be careful not to extrapolate

Big data can sometimes tell us when wedding bells will be ringing or when a family has moved to a new neighborhood. While these major life changes can create thousands of marketing opportunities, we need to be sure that the conclusions we’re making are not our interpretations of the data. Pinterest made this misstep when it sent emails to some of its users congratulating them on their upcoming nuptials. The problem was that many of the women who received them weren’t actually getting married.

Pinterest jumped to conclusions about users based on the content they were pinning. However, it failed to recognize that many may be pinning for a friend or just dreaming of their big (some)day. Avoid making inferences that can lead you to thinking about your audience too broadly or too narrowly.

  1. Don’t be creepy

Target won the creepiest-brand-of-the-year-award when it figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did. As the story goes, an angry father walked into his local Target, accusing the store of encouraging his teenage daughter to get pregnant. His daughter had been receiving coupons for baby clothes and cribs. The manager apologized to the man and followed up a few days later over the phone to say sorry again. However, this time it was the father who was apologizing: “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of,” he said. “She’s due in August.”

It’s not surprising that expecting mothers were uncomfortable with Target knowing about their pregnancies. What is surprising, however, is that the women were less likely to use the coupons if they felt they were being “spied on.” Target quickly addressed this by mixing in ads for other goods, so the targeted ads looked random. What can be learned from Target’s stocker-esq behavior? Just because we have information available doesn’t mean our customers are comfortable with it. Be respectful of how you use it. Put simply, don’t be creepy.

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