Database Profiling Alone No Sub for Marketing

Marketing in the Internet age is challenging, no doubt about it. The ability to collect information on current and potential customers has blurred the line between technological geekdom and marketing. Contemporary thinking has marketing departments becoming subservient to the computer wonks.

This trend is even spilling over to direct marketers, who generally are more wonk-like anyway.

Direct marketers have always been in search of going beyond RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) factors that are likely to predict actual buying habits. So, when there are touted marketing methods that promise powerful predictive models, we understandably take notice and hope that the Holy Grail of marketing has been found.

Huge databases are in development that will chronicle where potential consumers have surfed, how long they stayed at each location, and then match this information with offline information databases. These steps offer the promise of obliterating that blurred line mentioned earlier. It all sounds perfectly good … except it's dead wrong.

No amount of profiling from immense databases can substitute for real marketing. Real marketing involves crafting creative copy, compelling offers, and extolling the benefits of the product or services. The technological tools of profiling cannot substitute for understanding that the basic sales impulse has not changed since the serpent sold Adam and Eve a bill of goods at the Tree of Knowledge.

Travel back a moment to the Frankincense routes around the time of Jesus. Travelers met up with merchants who told tales of exotic spices and fragrances that were only available through them. This is referred to as the principal of exclusivity. Then, the merchant spoke of how Cleopatra herself used the fragrances to lure the great Caesar, not only into her bed, but into an international alliance. The implied endorsement from the Queen of the Nile goes a long way in establishing credibility.

These spices from Damascus, the oldest known city in the world, are not just pleasing to the palate. They transform an ordinary meal into a culinary feast fit for only the truly deserving. Some spices are even said to have almost mystical powers, as a Persian Sultan is rumored to have serviced his harem of 40 women in a single week. (How's that for a benefit!) The wine, made from the grapes along the Tigris, is nothing short of nectar from paradise. The travelers then leave with their caravan of camels loaded with the goods. We have witnessed a mythical, historic transaction.

Fast forward 2000 years from that transaction, and we are now in the information age. No amount of collected information can replace understanding motivations and the human heart. And now, we are getting to the point where many marketing departments believe that all purchasing behavior can be reduced to bits and bytes. They assume rationality. In the mad rush for profiling, the simple art of marketing is being thrown away.

The lines have been blurred between engineering and marketing. But, we have immense complexities with which to deal. The wonks wish to replace the simplicities of marketing with the complexities of predictive modeling. They expend massive amounts of energy and time disregarding the fact that most purchasing decisions are emotional decisions and not rational. Because emotion is not reducible to profiling, they assume it away. And in assuming it away, they fall prey to disregarding the essence of the sales transaction. In a word, wonks may “complicate” the transaction.

To be sure, there is a place for modeling. But we are best to remember the lessons of the merchants along the Frankincense routes and the brilliant words of Winston Churchill: “Out of intense complexities come intense simplicities.”

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