The Drive for Data

As companies dig deeper to identify their customers, they may be hurting their consumer communities.

Success in today’s digital marketing world hinges on “knowing” the consumer. In an environment that allows for very little face-to-face interaction, companies rely on data collection and interpretation to predict how their customers will act — and interact — in relation to their brand personas. Collecting data can look like anything from interpreting a survey e-mail to performing A/B testing on a series of Facebook posts, to observing in-venue guest behavior, but the end game is using the feedback to gain a better understanding of what consumers want and where to find them. In short, brands look to interpret data to make marketing and content more personal to each individual buyer.

But what if this personalization is actually hurting consumers’ ability to share their favorite brands with others? What if this quest for the snapshot of the individual is overlooking the power of the group? Take for example this post from Twitter:

The tweet refers to paper passes given out at theme parks that when unused, can be given to other theme park guests in an act of good will among fans. In 2014, Walt Disney World took its ride pass operations to a completely electronic, individual user-based system aimed at collecting data about each of its guests from the minute they step onto the company’s property. The move eliminated the paper ride pass system, thus also eliminating pass “gifts” between park goers. While the data being collected may certainly be more valuable to Disney in the end, the elimination of the common experience between guests perhaps distanced fans from each other and possibly prevented them from sharing good will toward the brand itself.

Similar severance of community ties can be a result of targeted promotions including personal discount codes and limited-access events. If customers can’t share their spoils, your reach stops with them and whether or not they purchase or participate. Customers who have access to general discount codes or promotions are much more likely to share those benefits with friends as de facto ambassadors of their favorite products and services. I recently received a thank you discount code for completing a survey for my favorite day planners that could only be used on my account. I would have loved to have forwarded that code to a friend who had recently asked about my loyalty to that brand, but the tailor-made code prevented me from creating a new customer for them.

There is certainly no denying that data is valuable: the more you know about your consumers, the easier it is to give them the goods, services, and information they want. Be sure, though, that as you tailor your marketing to collect data on the individual, you don’t limit opportunities for organic growth in your consumer community. For every individualized promotion, make an effort to offer more generalized opportunities as well. Because in this day and age of limited interpersonal interaction, nothing is so valuable as personal recommendation from your loyal customer base.

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