Last week I was talk­ing to a col­league who trav­elled to Salt Lake City for the Adobe Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Sum­mit. He was telling me about this “pay-as-you-go” music ser­vice he really liked. His ini­tial free min­utes ran out just that morn­ing. What we focused on was that when this hap­pened, it just hap­pened. There was no reminder about sub­scrib­ing to the ser­vice or an email ask­ing him to sign up. There was nothing.

Recently, I’ve been trav­el­ing to NYC mul­ti­ple times a month, and I’ve been stay­ing at a small hotel chain local to the city. I’ve always liked one of their 10 hotels bet­ter than the oth­ers. I, in fact, worked for the par­ent com­pany 12 years ago and helped run mar­ket­ing cam­paigns tar­get­ing peo­ple who fit the “present me”. So it was easy to pick a place to stay the three or four days every other week I found myself in NYC. Early on in my trav­els to the city I expected to receive some­thing invit­ing me to bring my fam­ily to the city and stay the week­end. After all, if you are in hos­pi­tal­ity in NYC a source of your incre­men­tal rev­enue comes from busi­ness peo­ple extend­ing their stay…but noth­ing ever came. I received no email com­mu­ni­ca­tion, even though I was insis­tent on leav­ing my email address. No other direct mar­ket­ing ever showed up at my home. Like my friend, I was disappointed.


As we chat­ted about this phe­nom­e­non, we were amazed that when we actu­ally wanted to be mar­keted to, noth­ing hap­pened. It’s a strange dis­ap­point­ment in and of itself, and also a strange dis­ap­point­ment for us to be talk­ing about this at a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing con­fer­ence. At Adobe, we spend a lot of time work­ing with cus­tomers who want to tar­get mes­sages. They want to get the right mes­sage to the right peo­ple. Dif­fer­ent orga­ni­za­tions are con­cerned about all the things that go along with not giv­ing cus­tomers that “creepy feel­ing”, but in the end there are small win­dows of oppor­tu­nity everywhere.

This at the heart is the “big data” prob­lem. There are moun­tains of data and mak­ing any sense of it seems over­whelm­ing. Cus­tomers often focus on the gaps. We spend hours talk­ing about details with­out ever act­ing on a cam­paign or idea because it won’t be bul­let­proof. Sup­pose my favorite hotel just looked at my uptick in book­ings and saw that I’ve stayed many times in past years and shot me an email about extend­ing my next stay. It may take a few guesses to assume that I was in town on busi­ness, but there are some clues: My busi­ness email address, my cor­po­rate card, or just an inquis­i­tive front office clerk who could help piece together the right mes­sage and right time.

Piec­ing the data together and mak­ing it action­able can make for huge oppor­tu­ni­ties. In the end, cus­tomers want mar­ket­ing. They want you to remem­ber that they booked at this hotel before, or pur­chased from this site before, or if they are read­ing their favorite online blog that they have a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in other prod­ucts and ser­vice that are con­tex­tu­ally rel­e­vant. Using data to under­stand things about me isn’t ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult. To under­stand things about peo­ple who are like me is more dif­fi­cult, but mak­ing all of that some­thing that is action­able in real time can seem over­whelm­ing. But accept­ing that some­thing close to per­fect is bet­ter than noth­ing at all is a key first step towards success.