Jan Davis, Advisor, Market Vue Partners

Is it possible for a marketer to "know too much?"

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Revealing too much information about your customer can cross the line from targeting to stalking.

Too much data can lead to analysis paralysis. The wrong data can lead to the wrong actions. And even the right data can be misused. From Norshore Meats and Deli, my butcher in Wilmette IL, to Sears to Outback Steakhouse, it’s crucial to understand what your customer data is telling you and then use it wisely.

Norshore has the advantage of really knowing its customers. We call ahead for that special cut of meat and happily give our names and phone numbers. We all live in one or two or three zip codes and observe predictable holidays that call for predictable entrees. And they use that data well for merchandising, staffing and window signage for specials. Norshore never violates its customers’ privacy with offers that are too specific and sometimes rewards loyalty with a little something extra in the bag.

But if you are the CMO of a national retail or franchise chain, you face a different challenge. You want to know your customers, so you acquire data from your proprietary credit card system or other sources. You try to pull data from the real estate group. You struggle with recalcitrant franchisees and outmoded POS systems. You track purchases across channels – online, retail, catalog – you database and analyze and come away with amazing insights. And then what?

If you’re lucky and smart and hire the right people, you build community and loyalty. Your marketing speaks to your customers in each of their specific local markets. You can even help your peers in merchandising or menu planning or operations come up with the right mix to really grow your business.

Or you can spoil it all – cross the line between targeting and stalking – with an overly specific offer. And you scare your best customers away because they believe you and your company are "The Man (or Woman) who Knew Too Much!"