2490850140_a8d0f5ede6I keep hearing the argument that Big Data creates more effective advertising and marketing.  It goes like this – the more data you have about your customers the more closely you can target their needs and wants with super-relevant and personalised messages, which increases your success rates.

It’s an argument much beloved and touted by the geeks, strategists and number crunchers.  And in some ways it’s hard to argue against – of course your messages have to be personally relevant.  But in other ways it is bollocks.  And this is why.

Please don’t treat me like a number

There’s a big difference between having data on someone and actually understanding them.  About a year ago I was slightly puzzled by the fact that the only money off vouchers Tesco sent me were for products I have bought in the past.  Then I figured it out (doh!).  OK, so they know that someone in our family likes parmesan cheese, probiotic yogurt and taco chips but the idea that they understand me, just by triangulating those three products, is absurd.

But what’s really interesting is the fact that some marketers truly think they can garner all that’s worth knowing about an individual simply by following their clicks, tagging their grocery shopping and analysing their social media activity.  This shows a remarkable lack of emotional intelligence, or towering arrogance, or both.

And the result?  Communications that are relevant – but don’t work.  Just figuring out that someone likes cheese, and saying “I know how much you love cheese, so here’s 15p off cheese” doesn’t cut it.  Actually it pisses me off.  One, because you are assuming I’m as dumb and susceptible as Pavlov’s dog.  And two because I don’t like the idea I’m being stalked.

Big Brother knows what’s best for you

John Hegarty put it rather well when speaking at Advertising Week Europe a few months ago.  “To those brands that say ‘I understand you’ I say ‘Fuck off, you don’t understand me. Mind your own business; I don’t want to be understood by you. I don’t understand myself sometimes… and it can be fun.” And “I’m not sure I want people to know who I am. I find that slightly Orwellian and I object to it. I don’t want people to know what I drink in the morning and what I drink at night. I think there’s a great problem here – throughout history we have fought for our freedom to be an individual, and you’re taking it away from us. I think there’ll be a huge backlash to that.”  

Must try harder

However, let’s put aside the fact I don’t like being spied upon, and that I suspect the phoney friendliness that goes with it (and those are two pretty big negatives if you want me to let you into my life).  There’s an even bigger problem here.   This belief that all you need is enough data for people to love you leads to creative laziness.  It fosters the complacent assumption that if you get the offer right, and get it to the right person, then they will buy.

This is a huge fallacy.  I’m sick of being pestered by marketers sticking their messages in my face – I get over 3,000 a day!  Plus I’ve already got almost everything I want already, so whatever you are pushing I probably don’t need it.  The two things I’m shortest of are time and money – and you are asking me to give you both!  And I know that, whatever your offer, there are dozens of providers out there who can match or beat it.

This means that if you want my attention you are going to have to be clever about it – as in lateral, creative, imaginative.  Amuse me, intrigue me, surprise me, and I might take a look.  But just saying “here, have this, we know you want it…” is a total turn-off.

Stop banging on

The guys who put all their faith in Big Data don’t get this.  There’s an old saying that “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.  They see the world in numbers, so they see people the same way – and just keep banging them over the head with an offer that, statistically, should work.

The problem with an exclusively hi-tech approach is that it alienates people – technology on its own is cold, impersonal, even sinister.  You have to soften it with hi-touch values if people are to warm to your offer and engage with you (for more on the need to combine hi-tech with hi-touch go to my previous post “Hi-tech hi-touch – a concept that’s at the heart of the world’s most successful brands”).

Don’t do dull

If all this hi-touch stuff is all a bit too warm and fuzzy for you, get this.  When all you have is an offer, that you know from the data is “right”, and you don’t bother to get a creative person to add some wit, charm and humanity to it, then all you’ll get is rejection.  The bottom line is this – unless you find an exciting way to express it, failure is guaranteed.  YOU CANNOT BORE PEOPLE INTO BUYING YOUR PRODUCT OR LOVING YOUR BRAND.


Picture credit: http://www.flickr.com/people/stitchindye/