“Customer Information” or License to Spam?

Image Courtesy of socialmediastrategiessummit.com

Image Courtesy of socialmediastrategiessummit.com

Today’s marketer, including live entertainment marketers, put a lot of value on what they call “customer information.”

Years ago, when we started Goldstar, this wasn’t the case. Very few people cared about “information” on its own. We were very early to the understanding that customer information had value, and in many ways, we’ve built our business on it.

But now, just about everyone gets it. Let me rephrase that, because it’s not really true. Now, just about everybody has at least the vague sense that they should care about customer information. But only some understand why they should collect it and how they should think about it.

Let me start with a radical idea: Customer information by itself is damn near worthless. If that information is not a reflection of a real relationship of some kind between your organization and the person corresponding to the information … it’s garbage.

That’s not quite true: Information in and of itself does have some uses. Analysis of what’s being bought, for example, when and by what kind of customers can tell you something that you may not know. I’m not talking about “big data” here, but the vast majority of the benefit in analysis comes from understanding the trends on a bigger level, not on a micro level. Facebook and Google analyze data at a micro-micro level because they have so much traffic that even a tiny improvement in results is worth tens or hundreds of millions in revenue.

That, in all likelihood, ain’t you. If a person on your staff isn’t a single click away from a customer’s purchase history or a record of that customer’s service interactions with your organization, you’re not poised to use the details of their purchase data. You’re just not there yet. Forget “big data.” You need to get busy with “regular-sized data” first. You’ll get a better return from money you might spend on sophisticated data analytics on customer service.

So, when I sometimes hear live entertainment marketers say they want “customer information,” my mind can’t help but translate that into, “I want a license to spam people who would choose not to hear from me if they could.” In the context of all the rest of the ways some people think of customers, and the way they market, and the importance they place on things like customer service, it’s very unlikely that the information — the electronic ghost of the person who owns the information — is going to get more respect than the person himself or herself. Why would they? Legally obtaining data that enables you to send email to somebody to sell your tickets isn’t smart, modern marketing. It’s old-fashioned interruption marketing that, if it were any worse, could get you sued. Possibly worse.

Customer information is valuable when it’s the result of permission and when it’s not just “data,” but when it actually represents a person with value to and interest in what your organization is doing. It’s not a blanket license to spam.

If you’re still thinking in terms of “blasts” to your “list” and that you’d like to add more “names” to it, you don’t get it.

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  • Dinna Myers says:

    Oh Jim. You have pushed my button. Sorry, but here we go. Do you know what I would like to do with our Goldstar customers? Form a relationship – a personal connection, that allows me to give them the best possible experience at our organization and makes them want to return. A great way to be able to do that is to send them a very brief survey within 24 hours of them having seen one of our shows. And then personally respond to their kudos or concerns within the next 24 hours. We learn a lot, and they know we care about their experience. By creating this relationship, I am potentially able to elevate this customer to a full-price ticket holder, or even a donor/investor or volunteer. But alas, I am not able to acquire this information from Goldstar. I work very hard to collect it on the day of the event by offering perks to people who sign up with us. So that is all well and good, but it is a LOT of work. Granting organizations would love to know more about the demographics of my audience – age, ethnicity, city of residence, annual household income. There is some new reporting from Goldstar, so that helps. But pales to what I could achieve if I could enter my Goldstar customer data in to the Bay Area Arts and Cultural Census Project and pull their extremely comprehensive demographic reports. Goldstar is a useful and powerful tool and we will continue to use and leverage it as well as we are able. But, I find it deeply offensive that you assume your partners have no idea what to do with customer information. Moreover, since I am sensitive to privacy issues, I have asked Goldstar to offer customers the option of opting into the mailing lists of the organizations for which they are buying tickets to resolve this very issue. Why not give the customer the choice? This request has been met with a resounding, “No.” Because Goldstar does not want to risk their own revenue generation by potentially losing their half-priced customers to becoming our full-price customers. Listen – I get it. That makes clear and defendable business sense. But please, please do not act like you are doing your partners some favor by saving them from themselves and their substandard, old-fashioned, backwater marketing culture. It’s just possible that we understand more than you think.

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