What’s in a name 10/12/93

I have often asked myself the question, “What’s in a name?” when looking at what comes out of my mailbox and have concluded that most marketers don’t seem to have a lot of interest in using a name either appropriately or effectively.

Stepping back from the question for a moment, let’s look at where businesses seem to be headed. I have seen repeated, virtually, the same story again and again. The client says, “I need a database”–the magic words. The internal MIS people then embark on the agonizing process of attempting to create the perfect relational database, the kind that will answer every conceivable marketing question with simple, single-page reports at your desk, on your PC, within 5 seconds of the request.  Well, not quite.

Lets take another step back and ask why?

The efforts of so many corporations now recognizing the importance of their customer names are to be applauded. And also for seeing that there is value in those names. Where all of this falls short is in not seeing the what  in the name.

Another story — a very large company in this country is trying hard to understand the value of their extensive customer base.  That’s the good news.  By the time they have finished an extensive project (and investment), sliced, diced and dissected their customer base, found common characteristics between groups of customers, built predictive, regression and, maybe, airplane models, what will they have and what more will they really know about their customers?  Well — they will see where their customers live, know their customer characteristics in various forms, know what they buy and what seems to make groups of them buy at single points in time, but will have failed to know the individual or know the name   Think of the long term business risks for a Consumers Distributing, a Sears, or a Zellers should they fail to really know their customers and their customers needs!

Resources, budgets, people are constantly being thrown at the question “Who is my customer” without really ever coming up with an actionable answer. Why?

The answer is in understanding the importance of beginning with a strategy that will engage you in a dialogue with the individual  and not the group.  That’s not realistic you might say. Another story…

A major pet food manufacturer starts a customer club that you join by responding to an ad. Great idea. Next come the coupons and related products and newsletters, but so far they have no information whatsoever (or seem to care less) about me, as an individual pet owner, or even my pets…how many do I have, their preferred food brands, etc. How difficult can that be?

Whether Kraft General Foods, Tupperware or  Sony, direct marketing success tomorrow will be in direct proportion to how well the marketer understands each customer individually and how they want to buy. Remember, the customer has a choice — not simply about their price and product requirements. That choice might not be you just because they don’t happen to shop through the only channel you happen to sell your products through — retail, direct sale or whatever

So what’s in a name?

Simply, understanding the individual, his or her needs, purchase history, lifestyle requirements, and then demographics.  And, understanding that, within your database, their are groups who share the same characteristics.  But what you are starting with is the individual behaviours, before moving to the group.

What’s in it for you?

Whether you are a retailer or a manufacturer the bottom line is the same.  You save money once wasted on untargeted advertising while speaking efficiently and effectively with the people who want to buy your goods or services.

Final story.

A large specialty department store continues to provide only lip service to the idea of understanding the individual, the name.  The consequence is a failure to communicate. and the result  is lost business, business they don’t even know about. Why?  Well this retailer does not really know its customers at all.  They continue to send out unaddressed mail to neighbourhoods that the store managers think customers come from, with merchandise and service offers someone in the marketing group assumed might work, at a time when all other retailers are sending stuff out, too.  In addition,  the 27 customers who responded to one of these traffic builder programs with a phone order were told to come to the store and nobody knows whether they did — or did not!  Not a very disciplined approach.

Whether  Brettons , Holt Renfrew, or Eaton’s, the answer is the same. If you don’t, at least, get into the game, you’ll never learn what’s in a name!

And, can you really afford not to find out?

 Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was

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