Database Marketing – Straddling the Line Between Caring and Creepy

Database marketing (DBM) is the center of the customer relationship management universe. But is it being too aggressive?

According to this article from the New York Times, database marketing is “an information driven marketing process made possible by database technology that enables marketers to develop, test, implement, measure and modify customized marketing programs and strategies.”

DBM takes historical data and uses it to predict the future.  It can help marketers learn to understand and attract new customers, then retain customers that they already have and offer them incentives to repurchase.

First, let’s examine the following situations.

Scenario 1: You walk into a coffee shop.  The cute barista behind the counter gives you a smile.  He knows what you want.  You walk over to the counter and before you can open your mouth to order, he hands you a soy chai (extra pumps), no foam, steamed to 120 degrees.  He knows you come into the coffee shop every day at 8:07 before going across the street to work.  He was ready for you. And better yet, he gave you a discount because you come in so often.

You walk out feeling pretty dang good about yourself.

Scenario 2: You are sitting on the bus and you notice this guy staring at you.  He’s making you uncomfortable, but doesn’t seem to care – he keeps staring.  You get up at your stop and see the stranger rise in your peripherals. He gets off behind you and you can hear him walking in pace with you.  It’s almost like his feet are falling in your exact footsteps.  You start to quicken your pace, when all of a sudden, he yells “stop!” You freeze. You’re completely startled.  He appears in front of you and hands you a paper.  You look down at your trembling hands and notice it is a coupon for $2 off a pack of ankle socks.  He says “I noticed you were looking at some new shoes at the mall earlier and thought you could use this.”

You walk away, terrified, wishing you hadn’t thrown away that emergency whistle you got during the new student orientation fair years ago.

Database marketing is viewed by some as the sexy barista, and others as the creepy coupon guy.

Those who see DBM as the sexy barista love the individual attention.  They are okay with the attention that the barista gives them because it helps them get what they want.

Those who see DBM as the creepy coupon guy don’t appreciate feeling like someone has been watching them.  They think that DBM oversteps privacy boundaries.  Many consumers are afraid that their information is being used in a manipulative way and that it is not safe.

In many arguments about whether or not DMB is creepy there are generally two sides: Marketers and legislators.

“What marketers think is cool, policy people often think is creepy.”

About a year ago, a campaign was started by the Direct Marketing Association’s  to fight against the Federal Trade Commision’s attempts at regulation.  Both sides bring up real concerns.

In the end – When database marketing is done right it seems like your perfect cup of latte from the attractive man in scenario 1.  When database marketing is not seamless, it can seem more like the guy on the bus following you in scenario 2.  Either way, DBM is an important aspect but companies need to self regulate in order to protect the privacy of the people within those databases.


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