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There’s an old saying that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” That’s sure true when it comes to profiling customers, or scoring leads, based on their digital profiles. Just ask travel site Orbitz, which is getting a lot of grief for reportedly steering Mac users to higher-priced fares than it does PC users.

Maybe Orbitz assumes Mac users have higher incomes than PC users, or are more likely to spend more for a perceived “quality” experience. Unless Orbitz has some nifty purchase pattern data about Mac users the rest of us haven’t seen, this not only is lousy PR for Orbitz but a lousy way to determine how much a given user has to spend, and how likely they are to spend it.

I Use a PC and I Have Money…Honest…

Any one digital clue (such as choice of operating system) is too small a sample to be meaningful when scoring leads. How about, for example, all those modestly-paid teachers whose school districts use Macs? Or all those starving artists and graphic designers who insist on using only Macs? Or poor college students who got an educational discount on one? And all those high-priced consultants and middle to upper management types who use PCs because of the enterprise applications available for them. They probably book more last-minute, high-priced fares than your average teacher or free-lance designer.

What’s worst, this single-metric profiling (if it did actually happen) is not how profiling should be done if you aim is to get the most maximum lifetime value out of a customer, rather than wringing every last dollar from every transaction. The real aim of profiling should be to give every prospect the information they need when they need it to make an informed choice. Give the customer more, and better information they can trust, and they’re more likely to trust and buy from you.

Profile Me. Please

This is especially true in more complex sales where you’re comparing more than departure, arrival and layover times. I, for example, am considering a solid state drive for my aging ThinkPad. I would love it if an online retailer could (with my permission, of course) analyze my system and honestly tell me which would provide the most bang for the buck based on my combination of processor, RAM, current disk, etc. Based on that, would I pay another 20 to 30 percent for the best performing drive? Absolutely.

The further up the cost and complexity scale you go (think IaaS providers, databases, service providers) the more carefully you should choose the digital “clues” you should follow. Unsure how to score prospects based on your current “one-size-fits-all” content? Carefully craft content designed to attract specific customer types so they score themselves based on what they read. (Watch a two-minute video example.)

When done well, customer profiling is not only acceptable but a benefit. Think of when Amazon gets it right and tells you about a cool book or musician you otherwise wouldn’t know about. Doing it right takes a lot more time and effort, but (if focused on your most attractive customers) pays off big-time.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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