If you’ve been in business for any length of time, it’s no secret that data and data analysis is vital to success. On Amazon, searching for books about “Big Data” will get over 9,000 results. That’s a massive number of books and something I’ll need Watson to distill for me.

Since I’m a marketer, let’s try something more specific. If we narrow that search and look at “Big Data for Marketing” we get 602 results. Still, a significant number and something that points to the importance of data in our field.

Over the years, marketers have become more aware and reliant on data. We look at the results of our AdWords campaigns or conversion rates on our websites and use that information to adjust. This typically leads to better ads and better websites. Both great things for businesses and consumers.

In addition to improving marketing channels, we use data to understand our customers so that we can send customized messages to specific people. There are plenty of ways to do this; however, I’m going to put them into three buckets for the sake of simplicity.

  1. Email database segmentation
  2. Paid advertising (retargeting, paid social and the like)
  3. Dynamic website content

All three methods can be effective in getting your message to the right people at the right time. However, email database marketing causes marketers to stumble frequently. I believe part of the cause comes down to how easy it is to create automated and dynamic content. Slap on %%propertyName%% a couple of times throughout the message and in your headline and you’re done.

Simple, right? Well, not so fast.

Take a look at this Tweet from Lauren Ash:

Tweet from Lauren AshNo alt text provided for this image

Seem familiar? How many times have you received an email that was out of place due to a lack of context? It happens far more than it should.

A similar situation happened to me last week when I received a re-engagement email from a Canadian railway transportation provider (not naming names :P). I purchased the tickets a couple of weeks prior to the email and was to travel on their system the next day. I only remember the email because it was so out of place. I would have loved that 30% discount a couple of weeks earlier, though.

How can we fix this

To paraphrase Ray Dalio in his book Principles, “You have to go past solving first-order problems and look for second- and third-order problems to be able to solve the first-order problem”. In the example above from Lauren Ash, the marketer wanted to solve the first-order problem of increasing repeat hospital visits and missed out on an opportunity to solve a deeper problem of how to engage patients who came to the hospital because they had to and not because they wanted to.

As marketers, we need to go beyond the basics of setting up campaigns and remember to think about user experience beyond a first-order problem. We need to test our ideas, discover different viewpoints, and understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of our messages. From here you can build a targeted message that drives business results and increases loyalty.

Oh, and don’t forget to update your database regularly (Canadian rail provider, I’m looking at you)!

Before signing off, I want to thank Ron Tite for the inspiration to write this post. I always enjoy seeing your ideas (fully-baked and otherwise). Follow him if you want great insights and a few laughs (I’m told he’s funny).