Use Customer History to Shape Communications Planning

Philosopher George Santayana once famously penned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,”[1] and there are few who would take issue with his point. But I further see a corollary that communications managers would be equally well served to observe:

“Those who view the past in terms of only their recollections are doomed to misinterpret it” – and this can be a very bad thing when it comes to planning a communications campaign to generate a particular customer behavior.

Remember Your History
The problem with relying solely on human memory is that it consistently has been shown to be fallible. The reasons are many – and some of them are physiological, making them very hard to overcome – but a recent report from Northwestern University distilled them well by stating “memory rewrites the past with current information, updating your recollections with new experiences.”

For example, the report says love at first sight is more likely a trick of your memory than a Hollywood-worthy moment. “When you think back to when you met your current partner, you may recall this feeling of love and euphoria,” said lead author Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “But you may be projecting your current feelings back to the original encounter with this person.”

Being part of the human condition, this dynamic is equally present when dealing with affairs of business – and it is, in fact, the force that is at work when you remember your last transpromo effort as being successful despite receiving only a few inquiries at the end of the response period. Fortunately, avoiding this pitfall is relatively straightforward, and requires only that you have a decent stock of customer history on hand.

Truly Know Your Audience
One fervently hopes that the notion of using information about what your customers did before as a guide to what they may do in the future isn’t new to you – and if it is, well, thank goodness you’re reading this piece! Banks, retailers, even medical practices now routinely collect data about the people they serve in order to understand their need and patterns. So you’ve certainly been the target of this tactic, even if you haven’t utilized it yet yourself.

The goal, of course, is to better position, market, and sell other products and services by reflecting people’s recorded actions, not by relying on possibly unreliable memories or, worse, sheer guesswork. And the power of the program stems from its foundation in real-world data that has been collected and analyzed in a disciplined and systematic way.

Sometimes referred to as “predictive analytics,” this is essentially what is meant by the term “Big Data,” which is as over- and misused as any buzz-phrase in recent history. Whatever you call it, the point is to use technology to develop and publish content that relates to and builds upon what you know your audiences are interested in because of the ways they’ve engaged with you before.

Use Data to Mitigate Risk
Besides maximizing your opportunity for successfully meeting the goal of your communication initiative, heeding your customer history when crafting your plan also minimizes your risk of embarrassment or, perhaps ruinously, outright rejection.

For instance, inadvertently promoting a new financial service for married people to someone who cited a recent divorce as the reason for changing his or her life insurance beneficiary is ineffective at best, and easily interpreted as a sign that you’re not really paying attention. But offering life insurance in the name of a person reported as deceased comes across as callous at best, and can be construed as a sign that you just don’t care.

Both of these outcomes can be readily avoided by mining the trove of history that you already have, and gains can even be made by, say, making note of a newly-arrived baby by sending a congratulations card. In the end, it almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as it is based on good data and not faulty memory. Otherwise, you almost surely will be condemned to repeating some incident from your past.

[1] George Santayana, Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner’s, 1905, p. 284

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