Organizational Design: Why You Don’t Want to Control Personal Data

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Many clients I work with have a customer, client, vendor, constituent, stakeholder and/or member database from which they manage the data they collect and maintain in the course of doing business. This database holds a lot of personal information: names, addresses, e-mail addresses, financial information, and so on.

Over time, I have seen a high level of resistance to handing control of certain aspects of this database over to the people whose information is contained in it. I often hear two major arguments:

  • If we give them access to it, our database will be “messed up” because people will put bad information in it. 

Honestly, the information most people want to change is their contact information.  They want to keep their e-mail and postal addresses up to date, and make sure you have their preferred phone number.  If you don’t have an automated way for this to happen, you are going to waste postage sending mail to people’s old addresses and your e-mail list will get a lot of bounce-back messages, which could flag you for spam.  Not something you really want. Your database is always going to be a little bit out of date – people change their personal contact information without telling you. Giving people access to change that contact information just makes your database less out-of-date than if you were doing it yourself.

  • If we give people the chance to opt out of our regular communications, our mailing (and e-mailing) lists will shrink, and we won’t have the reach we once had.

If people don’t want to hear from you, continuing to talk won’t help your case.  Giving your mailing list members unsubscribe options keeps you focused on the people who want to hear from you – at least at some level.  Moreover, if you give an opportunity for message throttling or segmentation (such as giving people the option to get less frequent communication, or only on certain topics), then you have actually gained ground in knowing what is more effective, rather than wasting your time. Beware turning your most loyal customers/constituents/supporters into your worst word-of-mouth enemies by annoying them to death with unwanted communication.

Both of these arguments hint at the insecurity of business: but if we are not willing to engage in some level of feedback, we may really not want to know how effective we are being.  Engaging in database feedback like this, giving control over personal information to those represented by that information will challenge organizational assumptions and encourage communicators to find even more effective ways of reaching people.

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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Big Data, E-mail marketing, personal information, control, fear

Organizational Design: E-mail Marketing Pitfalls

Posted by Matthew Thomas

A few years ago, I signed up for a rewards card with a nationally-known big-box retailer. As one of the conditions of the card sign-up, I had to give an e-mail address so they could contact me with information about my (hopefully accumulating) rewards points.  However, this also linked me into their database to receive regular marketing e-mail from this retailer. At first, the marketing e-mails came periodically, with most of the communication being about the rewards. After a while, though, the stream of marketing e-mail deepened to near-flood level, so that of late, the messages had become a daily occurrence. 

This practice, over time, began to change my attitude toward this retailer. While this retailer is still the only one of its type in my area, and while I have chosen it over other options when I lived elsewhere, the daily e-mail marketing became like a steady drip – something that gets in your head and starts to raise your blood pressure. I began to resent the rewards card for the near-spam I kept receiving in my inbox.

So what to do? I decided to take myself off the e-mail list, no matter what it did to the not-accumulating-very-fast-rewards, just to put an end to the constant sales pestering. To my surprise, the unsubscribe form I got to from the link in the bottom of one of the innumerable e-mail messages stated that it could be up to ten days to get off their list.

Ten days? Seriously?

In those ten days, my attitude toward the retailer didn’t improve. It actually plummeted, if I may be honest. The inability for me to turn the barrage off left me feeling even more frustrated and powerless.

I used to go into their store and browse a bit when I needed to shop for stuff they carried, looking at their gadgets (it’s a gadget-y kind of place). Now, my frustration level with them is high enough that I only go in there when they are the only place I can get what I need, and then I’m in there only long enough to get in, find the widget, and get out: no lingering, or “while-we’re-here-ing”. Not something a marketing department was hoping for from their campaign.

There are lots of takeaways from this experience, but here are a few that the Sustainable Vision readers might find most useful:

  1. People like managing their own data.  If I have to give out my e-mail address, (which I always bite my lip and think long and hard about, or give an address that I don’t check often, if at all), I want to be able to have control over the flood of messages.
  2. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Another smaller, boutique retailer offered a rewards card, which resulted in a similar volume of e-mail. However, when I went to unsubscribe, they gave me options as to how much I wanted to hear from them. I selected once-monthly messages (because they didn’t give quarterly as an option, but oh well), and they actually rose in my esteem, and my frustration level with them dissipated.
  3. Response time is essential.  Most people I talk to only unsubscribe from a marketing e-mail list once the messages have passed the point of annoyance, usually by quite a bit. The big-box retailer had poor customer database management, which means customers were going to continue to be needled by the unwanted messages for a week and a half after they asked to be removed. By contrast, the boutique retailer that offered frequency modulation also responded immediately by cutting off the flow.
  4. Over-marketing can turn your most loyal customers / clients into your worst word-of-mouth enemies. If someone comes across your path twice a year, don’t expect that they want to hear from you every day – or even more frequently – in their personal e-mail inbox. If you over-e-mail, you are likely to become that annoying message that increases anger and frustration. Especially since, in many cases, it has just dinged on someone’s smartphone, disrupting whatever else they were doing, even if it was just slingshot-ing animated avians at defensive hogs. They then mutter under their breath to their friends that they got that annoying e-mail from Big-Box Retailer again, delete it without reading it, and go back to using their frustration to help those birds vent theirs.
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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, Big Data, E-mail marketing, data management, organizational design