Technology lets companies get personal

Cam Shapansky and Chris Mackechnie used to send deliberately insulting messages to Xerox Corp. workers.

Shapansky and Mackechnie, of Information DesignWorks in Toronto, spoke of this nefarious practice at a conference on digital colour printing and one-to-one marketing organized by Xplor International last month. They explained that by sending Xerox workers gross generalizations about them based on such criteria as age and gender, they wanted to get the employees to respond, thereby providing accurate personal data to Information DesignWorks.

That is only one technique, albeit a successful one, that can be employed, according to Mackechnie, an image maker at DesignWorks. He said companies that effectively collect, store and use information will succeed.

Companies need to start treating each of their customers like individuals, he said. This was one of the cardinal rules that Shapansky, the president of DesignWorks, and Mackechnie live by and that they shared with the audience at the keynote address.

One-to-one marketing marries three areas of a company that don’t generally get along with each other – marketing, sales and IT, Mackechnie said, but for the initiative to be successful all the sides have to work together.

The goal is to send people less information. “Give [people] the information they want and need, and not the information that is easiest for your business to provide,” Mackechnie said.

Many large organizations think that one-to-one marketing is too complex a strategy to undertake, but Shapansky said most organizations already have all the information they need to get started.

The DesignWorks team will write business logic onto a composition template and then run that against a data file that a customer organization already has. This produces content customized for specific customers.

Step one, Shapansky said, is for companies to find ways of getting customers to tell them about themselves.

That’s why they sent the Xerox workers obviously erroneous messages. They wanted to get a reaction to the employees – one strong enough to make them respond. With the information they then gathered, they were able to target the employees with very specific messages.

Most people are suffering from information overload, Shapansky said, and they don’t read a lot of the stuff that is sent to them because it’s not relevant. With one-to-one marketing, there’s a better chance of catching someone’s attention.

Shapansky realized that gathering such information raises privacy issues but if companies were open about what they were doing, then there would be no concerns.

“We’ve said (to our customers), look, if you tell us what you want, if you tell us what information you’re interested in, then we’ll stop sending you all kinds of crap that you don’t want. Your objectives are clear. The reason you’re trying to get all kinds of information from them is so that you can send them only the information you want. People are quite open to it,” Shapansky said in an interview.

“The key is to let customers know how you’re using the information gathered on them, what your purposes for gathering the information are, and then be ethical about following through with those promises,” Shapansky said.

Companies need to use the vast amounts of information they’ve collected to start treating their best customers better than they treat everyone else. They also might need to stop worrying about their worst customers.

“Not every customer is worth the effort,” Mackechnie said.

Currently, companies spend the same amount of time marketing to their best customers as they do to their worst, Mackechnie said, and they would benefit by spending their marketing dollars on those most likely to listen, with messages directed specifically at them.

And although the Xplor seminar was about on-demand digital colour printing, Shapansky and Mackechnie reminded the audience that the world is now wired and that companies have to start thinking about the Web as a method of delivery, along with paper-based documents.

“Any company program that doesn’t look at the Internet as a tool and a reality is doomed to fail,” Mackechnie said.