Is Big Data Blinding Your Customer Innovation?

by Kim Garretson

My head hurts when I search “big data predictive analytics”. Forrester appears in the 80,000 results with details on the mega-companies it tracks in this space. And the VC news is about millions pouring into the segment.

Wait, I think, doesn’t ‘predictive’ equal ‘guess’?  Especially when it relates to marketing innovation? If you really want to put your customers at the center of your marketing planning, can’t you just ask them how best to market to them?

I’m not suggesting marketers replace predictive technologies by ‘just asking’ customers. That’d be hard to do at scale. And it still may seem hard to do at a measurable scale. However, there are new platforms hitting the market this year called Intelligent Alerting, from TrackIf and other companies. These platforms only deliver triggered, personalized and requested marketing communications to customers. Several storm clouds are rolling in pointing to this need to ‘just ask’.

How Are Predictive Technologies Working?

If your IT team may be ‘blinding’ you with shiny new predictive technologies, perhaps point them to this recent Venture Beat article (link and this:

“It turns out that marketers are spending well over a third of their budgets (on average) on analytics. This in spite of the report finding that levels of confidence in analytics’ ability to generate insight are mediocre, at best.”

And the inimitable Harvard blogger Doc Searls says this about ‘predictive’, (link

“Neither visiting sites nor buying are measures of interests. All they show are actions that could mean anything — or nothing.  The interest-based advertisers say our interests are “inferred” by what we do (and they like to observe, constantly and everywhere). And yet those inferences are weakened by another assumption that is flat-out wrong, nearly all the time: that we are always in a shopping mode. In fact we are not.”

How Does Intelligent Alerting work?

At e-commerce sites, and other businesses with a lot of changing content and offers, such as real estate and jobs sites, the user experience is straightforward. Usually, there is a simply a new button next to the Add to Cart button that can say Get Alerts. Clicking produces a menu of selections, and asks for an email address or SMS, not a registration with a password. For shopping sites, alert options are:

  • Price Changes

  • Back-in-Stock

  • New Items Added

  • Changes to Wish List/Favorited Items

  • Updates on Social Shared Items

  • New Reviews and other Content

What Storm Clouds Are Rolling In?

Three trends are increasingly ‘choking’ the way marketers collect data and push predictive marketing content out to audiences. The are:

1. Ad Blocking

PageFair reports the use of ad blocking has soared from 50 million users in 2013 to 236 million this year. And, Apple just released iOS 9 with the Safari mobile browser auto blocking ads. Meanwhile, the Chrome browser, with 51 percent market share, is about to block ads made with Flash, which has a 91 percent market share in animated ads. And then there is the average click-thru rate on non-blocked ads, now well under one percent.

2. Email ‘Blast’ Exhaustion

Unsubscribing to generic email blasts, with non-consumer-specified content, is on the rise and open rates are falling, often to below 2%. reports some major e-commerce sites have 52-to-43 percent unsubscribe rates.

3. Customer ‘Highjacking”

Most major Web companies now want to ‘own’ your customers and sell you data on them. With Google, Pinterest and Facebook putting Buy buttons in ads they claim this is customer centric. What it really means is these companies are highjacking data about your own customers to use in stuffing their own coffers.

image credit: DARPA_Big_Data

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Kim Garretson is a marketing technology executive with TrackIf and a consultant to retailers, brands and media companies on emerging tech trends. He previously was in strategy and innovation at Best Buy, and he is a founder of three digital agencies, with two of those now owned by Interpublic and Publicis.

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