Why customer data might be the death of you

It’s not news, but I still find it shocking to consider the ease with which a business can ‘get to know’ their clients.  As soon as the modern marketer steps foot outside their metaphorical front door, they’re beset by an amalgamated horde of analytics tools, metric systems and algorithmic programmes. Take a few more steps and these only grow in number and sophistication. But are we becoming too reliant on data-driven measures?

Businesses can access their customer’s past purchases, past buying patterns, past brand preferences and a whole lot more. But the operative word here – as you’ve probably noticed – is past. By acting solely on data from your customer’s history you’re confining yourself to that realm. And that history, lucrative repository though it may be, will run out one day. It comprises a series of experiences, each different from the last, which define a persona that companies can appeal to with their product or service.

In life, we all know the pitfalls of only looking backwards. So how long will it be before this process leads to a stagnant relationship between business and customer? ‘Oh – you liked that in the past? Here’s the same thing again. And again.’ And so forth. If brands lose interest in the idea of providing something new in favour of the — seemingly safe — notion of offering something they know their customer has liked, then that process, which created the history they’re acting off in the first place, will be lost. Andy Stern, writing for the Drum, refers to it as a ‘blinkered approach’, citing that by using a ‘data-driven approach, we have an incomplete view’. I’d add misguided, but you get the point.

Content doesn’t mean happy
Contentment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Think of a contented customer as one emoting tamely – a shrug, maybe a half smile, but little more. A happy one, excited by the promise of something unexpected, is an altogether different, more loyal prospect. Taking the risk of creating something new, grounded in actively pre-empting your customer’s future desire rather than passively observing their historical tendencies, is the key to originality. And while it’s impossible to hit the nail on the head every time, it’s this bold authenticity that, done right, will make your customers happy, loyal and eager to see what you’ve got coming up next. This is in stark contrast to an excessive dependence on leafing through their old receipts which is only ever going to provide a predetermined blueprint for apathetic contentment.

Here is where the real risk lies, because it opens the door for another company to come along and seize the initiative, and the customer. Viewing this through a topical lens, the best-selling author Jay Block says ‘All endeavors requiring growth require risk. We all know that in today’s world, if we stand still, we’re actually falling behind.’ And, extolling the benefits of the alternative approach, Lucia Paulis of Thinkbda argues ‘When you get it right, taking a risk can be defining, exciting and hugely significant for positioning your brand – whether that be re-evaluating your image or building on a brand that is already reputable.’

Creating history, not being bound by it
At this point it’s probably time to throw in a hyperbolic metaphor or two — along the lines of ‘the Romans didn’t come up with straight roads by going off old designs of the bendy ones’ — but by looking to historical context to convey the point, I’m defeating it. Yes, your offering should be informed by analysis of your customer’s past, but living solely by that information is only going to prevent you from making genuine strides.

Operating in the now, I would point to the musings of former Apple CEO John Sculley. In an interview with Alistdaily he said, ‘Everyone that I ever worked with who made breakthrough changes in marketing always was a curious and hardworking person that wasn’t afraid to take risks… you have to be a risk-taker if you’re going to be a really good marketer.’ He does go on to caveat his point with the possibility of failure, and he’s right to do so as you can’t ignore the chance that by creating something original, you might be creating something unsuccessful.

But, as Jay Block puts it, remaining inactive means falling behind. Do something new, and you might succeed. Do it well, and you almost certainly will. But do nothing, and you’ve already failed.

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