Ah, Big Data… this buzzword has been flying around for a while now. The premise is that companies can analyze their treasure troves of data – America along creates 2,657,700 gigabytes of internet data every minute – and dig out helpful, novel nuggets of information. Perhaps to improve healthcare treatments, provide more intuitive customer service, or even respond faster to the aftermath of natural disasters. Big Data seemed capable of solving all of humanity’s problems.

However, I posit that currently Big Data is delivering on the futuristic dream. The major headline recently is “IBM Watson Reportedly Recommended Cancer Treatments That Were ‘Unsafe and Incorrect,'” but here are several examples I’ve seen in my own email inbox:

Target: But I already wrote a review!

I recently bought two of these adorable chairs for my husband and my living room. Aren’t they cute? I liked them so much, I proactively wrote a 5-star online review on Target.com shortly after they were delivered. But a few days later, I received this email:

Sure, it isn’t a crime to follow-up with a “please review” email after a purchase. But why didn’t Target know that I had already written a review? I wrote the review under my Target account, the same account – and the same email address – I used to order the chairs. Everything should be synced together, right?

That’s two strikes for Target‘s email team recently! Maybe they should hire a certain Kahuna…

Mister Quik: But I’m already a member!

If you haven’t heard of this company, don’t worry, they’re local to Indianapolis. Why am I picking on a local company? Mister Quik is who we turn to for our home’s HVAC needs. Overall, the company’s technicians and customer service representatives have been fantastic. So much so that we joined their maintenance plan last year and recently re-upped for another year. So why, then, a few months later, did I get this email?

Why yes, I DID know you have a maintenance plan!

This email was sent to the same email address that is tied to our maintenance plan account. I’m guessing Mister Quik just does batch and blast emails, but even for a local company, I think not telling your plan members to buy a plan would be a no-brainer. Even if they didn’t have data in their email system to automatically exclude plan members from getting this email, it could have been done manually very simply: just export the email addresses belonging to plan members, and scrub them against the main email list (using the MATCH function in Excel) to find them and then remove them.

Crackers Comedy Club: But I already bought tickets!

I really do hate picking on local companies, but this one really shocked me. I had purchased a Groupon for four tickets to this downtown comedy club for $40. To apply the Groupon to the show of choice (Chris Rock’s brother, Jordan), I had to call in to book. That process was totally fine – the woman on the phone was very nice. Along with other information, she asked for my email address for sending me an email receipt. But I admit I was surprised when I got this email a few days later, and just a few days before the show:

Okay, let’s break this down:

  1. My opt-in to their blast email list could only have come from the phone call, and I was never remotely asked if I wanted to sign up. Marketing email-wise, this is not exactly kosher opt-in practices.
  2. This email doesn’t account for how I had in fact already booked seats to see this show, so it seems Crackers’ online system either doesn’t track individuals’ bookings, or doesn’t tie in with their email. Or, if they have the data, they’re sure not using it to aid in email efforts.
  3. The email essentially rubbed in my face that despite getting a Groupon, I had overpaid for the show.
  4. That made me feel like a sucker and definitely decreased my opinion of Crackers, as well as my likelihood to ever pay anything but $5 for a ticket in the future. That is, if I go back.

This email atrocity was worse than Mister Quik’s in that it wasn’t just a senseless batch-and-blast email: it very much shot the company in its own foot, decreasing its value perception. And it could have been avoided with just a bit of a data system in place.

Which brings it home: you don’t have to be a BIG company to help uphold the promise of BIG data. Even at Target, a behemoth with a ton of data to work with, data doesn’t make sense of itself. Someone has to realize, “Oh, I guess we shouldn’t send those review request emails to people who already wrote a review!” and then leverage the data to help them get there.

But until putting ideas to work, the magic of Big Data remains elusive.

Does your email marketing program need a kickstarting blend of analytics and creativity?

The Failed Promise of BIG DATA
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