1:1 Marketing is Wrong

[Quick note:  I’m going to experiment with what I call some short-form blog posts.  Being an analyst, I tend to want to explain my reasoning in depth.  Sometimes, however, I just want to get out a sharply worded position or observation, so I’m going to intersperse my longer pieces with some of these quick hits.  Let me know what you think.]

Some 20 years or so ago, in the early days of the Internet, marketing consultants Don Peppers and Martha Rogers came up with the notion of 1:1 Marketing.  The core proposition behind it is to treat consumers like individuals.  Sounds good, right?  Well, I think it has been a fool’s chase and I can’t begin to imagine how much money has been spent in its pursuit.  And the more data we accumulate, the further we get from being able to realize this “vision.”  What’s wrong with the vision?

  • From a marketer’s perspective, you don’t need to get to 1:1.  Let’s use beer as an example.  What do you need to know?  Probably just my gender and IQ.  To make a gross generalization:
    • If female, then light beer.
    • If male and IQ>93, then imported beer.
    • If male and IQ<93, then Budweiser.
  • From a consumer’s perspective, do you really care to have that close a relationship with your deodorant or your automobile?  At some point, it even gets creepy.  It’s just a deodorant for God’s sake, not a lifestyle expression (unless you use Axe).

Instead of 1:1 marketing, we — both sides of the equation — want sufficiently meaningful differentiation.  I’m not going to ® that term.  It’s not particularly catchy.  But that’s what serves both marketers and customers very well.  We don’t have to drive to deeper and deeper levels of differentiation.  We just need to get to some degree of meaningful differentiation.  Light beer or not?  Import cars or domestic?  Museums or baseball?  As brands drive to get finer and finer, bad things happen:

  • Costs go way up to accumulate and process all the unnecessary data.
  • You slow down your decision-making because you’re considering too many variables.
  • You get further away from what the customer self-identifies as their relevant affiliation.  I’m a Mets fan (I know, I know) and identify as a whole with that group, not an upper-middle class, educated professional with two kids, a dog and, occasionally, a job.  When you differentiate me from the rest of the group on some vague 1:1 notion, you diminish your attractiveness, not enhance it.

As a consumer, I generally identify as part of a tribe.  Identify those meaningful tribes and market to them, not some ridiculous notion of 1:1 that we’ll never achieve and would never deliver on its promise even if we could.  It’s time to say “the emperor has no clothes” to this whole 1:1 marketing thing.  Social media has given it new life.  Stop it now.