What Are You Doing With Your Data?

kunalSo much is being made of data these days. We’re told that every time we swipe our credit cards, loyalty cards or any other card we leave a trail of our purchase behavior (which we do) and our preferences, and marketers use that information to sharply target us with their offers and messages. We’re told that this information is so precious that it is stored in powerful supercomputers housed behind barbed wire and protected by ferocious dogs. These computers process our digital profiles, they know exactly when our wife’s birthday is, and then we’re sitting ducks for brand promotions.

My personal experience suggests that the notion of such pin-pointed marketing is still a mirage. It is entirely possible that those complex algorithms have chosen to exclude the digital savvy generation, and I first punched a Fortran program at the age of 19. But my daughter is 8 years old, has a very consistent pattern of choosing Magic Tree House books and playing dress-up games on the Internet, yet hasn’t received a single email from Toys R’Us or Garden Books on Changle Road.

Isn’t something amiss?
I reckon there is. I believe that most brands haven’t quite gotten their brick and mortar and online acts aligned. Like many others in China, and increasingly other parts of the world, I find Uniqlo irresistible. I visit their stores at least twice every month, and buy an item of their clothing at least once every month. If Uniqlo were keeping track of what I bought, they would know which colors I like, how my waistline has grown and shrunk over the last five years, if I bought more or less office wear than casual wear, what proportion of clothes I bought on discount and what at regular price. I don’t think they do. Even if they did, they are just sitting on that information. I have never received any communication from them – on my mobile, in my email, or in my mailbox. So when Uniqlo won the Cyber Lion award at the prestigious Cannes advertising festival, I’m left wondering what the fuss is all about. They may have a great web presence, but if that isn’t quite connected with the real world, it’s a shameful waste.

quotenkunalWhy single them out?
This is a story that is being repeated across brands and product / service categories. My wife and I have dozens of loyalty or membership cards: airline, hotel, restaurant, hypermarket, furniture store, the neighborhood DVD store, hospital, toy store, gym. The airlines and hotels remind us monthly about our point tally and their current offers. Over the years, they must also know where we’ve holidayed (and hence what kind of places we’d like to go). But no one, absolutely no one is making any use of that information. Of course, Jet Airways, who I have almost never flown since moving to China, still wishes me happy birthday every year.

Not only that, they’re making redemption so complicated that I sometimes wonder if the loyalty reward should be renamed as loyalty punishment. Want to redeem your airline mileage? “You’ll have to come to the airline office. Sorry, you can’t do it over the Internet. You’ll have to call our customer service executive whose line is always busy.”Z

In the last decade, marketers in China, and everywhere else, have simply been overwhelmed. Media and retail choices have multiplied, fragmented, and morphed at a pace they have found impossible to keep up with. In the drive to stay relevant, experts are hired in each individual domain – digital, retail, event management, customer relationship. These domain experts then get fiercely protective about their respective territories and start believing that their way is the most effective at generating revenue.

The valuable data that each transaction and customer interaction generates falls through the cracks. It may be time to stem that loss.

Reproduced with permission from China International Business magazine. 

Date: March 03, 2011