The Challenge of Changeable Customers

When it comes to behavioral targeting, I’m never surprised by the ads I’m served on my personal Mac. After all, when I’m clicking through emails I’ve opted in to, browsing online, or conducting a search my interests are fairly clear.

Where I’m impressed with behavioral targeting is at work. In the course of researching and fact checking our content, I visit myriad sites in a plethora of industries; I conduct search across scores of topics. Mixed in with my searches on and visits to businesses as diverse as hospitality companies, manufacturers, and retailers, are searches on and visits to the sites of marketing-technology companies of every ilk.

Despite the variety, the behavioral targeting tools used by several marketing-tech vendors are able to recognize my interest in marketing technology and act accordingly.

Contradictory views

Of course, I think that’s pretty awesome. But, considering my job, I would. The challenge for marketers is that most customers are changeable. The same customer who thinks it’s cool that one of her favorite brands is “following” her online might just think it’s creepy that an unfamiliar brand—or even one she knows but is indifferent to or dislikes—is “stalking” her online.

Additionally, while many customers and prospects like to see ads or other information about products and services that are of interest based on their stated or implied preferences, some customers will always be uncomfortable being targeted based on past behaviors. Determining which customers and prospects are which is difficult, but important to the success of your marketing in the short and long term—not only in terms of driving response, but also in terms of brand image. This is one reason personalization and relevance are essential.

“The real issue is that consumers don’t like to be surprised,” Boston Consulting Group Senior Partner John Rose says in “The Data-Protection Paradox.” What’s more, 60% of consumers surveyed expect companies to know their preferences and understand their needs, according to SAS.

So, what’s a marketer to do? Start by being transparent and educating customers on how their data is used in clear language, not legalese. Follow the Golden Rule and use your customers’ data the way you’d like yours to be used. And get involved in the discussion about privacy and data protection through one of the many industry associations facilitating those conversations.

Springing in with a flourish

March brings with it springtime blossoms, which is why March 21, the first day of spring, is the perfect day to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2014 Marketing Hall of Femme honorees—18 chief marketers who have been instrumental in their company’s growth. We invite you to join the celebration in New York. Visit for details.

Correction: The “NEXT: Infographic” in the February 2014 issue incorrectly noted a projection. The correct data is a projected 1.1% increase in direct mail spending in 2014 by Winterberry Group.

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