Has marketing become too targeted… or not enough?

As marketers, we’ve all been obsessed with targeting. Have we gone too far, or is this just the beginning?

As marketers, we’ve all been obsessed with targeting. Have we gone too far, or is this just the beginning?

Walking into the store, I couldn’t remember the last time I was in a Barnes & Noble. A strange thing, because I’m an obsessive reader, but most of my book purchases (and most other buys, for that matter) have been through Amazon for several years now.

Still, it was nice to be back in that retail setting.

I went in because I just happened to be driving by, and I wanted to pick up some summer reading my high-school-aged son has to do. It was a classic Oscar Wilde book, and I knew Barnes & Noble would have it. I should only be five minutes, I thought.

An hour-and-a-half later, I left the store—with $100 in books under my arm.

What happened? Good question. I had no intention of buying anything more than the Wilde book. But as I wandered through the store, other books—items and subjects I would not have thought of—caught my eye. So I stopped, picked things up, browsed, read, put things back, picked others up, and before I knew it, I had a new stockpile of reading material. (I’ll have to get an engineering degree to figure out how to add that pile to the already dangerously unstable one next to my bed.)

This whole experience made me think about marketing today and just how highly targeted things are. My unplanned side trip into B&N ignited something that hasn’t happened in a while for me: A right-brain shopping experience.

You remember the old right/left brain theory: The left hemispheres of our noggins are supposed to be analytical, linguistic, math oriented and direct. The right sides are more creative, exploratory and concept based.

Usually, for most of us, online purchases are a left-brain experience:

  • You want to buy something.
  • You either look it up on Google or go to some site to buy it.
  • You may read reviews, compare brands, etc.
  • You buy it.

A very linear and wonderfully efficient process. That’s why people love it.

My right-brain shopping experience was far different in B&N that day…

  • OK, Oscar Wilde. Probably in classic literature. Oh look, a book on Benjamin Franklin! I always wanted to read about him. I’ll just look at this for a minute…
  • OK, classic lit is over there—I think I see the Wilde book already—oh, wait! I didn’t know Kevin Whitehead had a new book out on jazz!

A much more carefree, exploratory, process. One that people also love.

The simple fact is, I likely never would have found the stuff I did without my bookstore stop. If I went on Amazon, I surely would have found the Wilde book—along with recommendations on other Wilde books or perhaps movies about him or biographies. But never the Ben Franklin or jazz books.

You can say that I wasted time and money in the bookstore; that I was inefficient. But I can also tell you that I’m thoroughly enjoying the other books I bought, and I like to think I’m a more fulfilled and knowledgeable person as a result.

I can also tell you that, right now, I’d never give up my Amazon account. I just love that site too much. Most times, I know exactly what I want, and I just want to get it quickly and efficiently. Bingo.

But the more right-brain experience in marketing (especially digital) is missing right now… the opportunity for all of us to perhaps sell other services and items that wouldn’t even occur to our customers because they’re being so linear and specific.

Many marketing opinion leaders say that big data will bring the right and left hemispheres/experiences together—a virtual corpus callosum, if you will.

Big data is the ability—a la the NSA—to gather details on a customer’s every move, down to the grain of sand level. That includes online behavior, buying habits, what they do for a living, how they spend their free time, and much more. Forbes does a great job explaining all of this.

Every day, big data technology is getting more advanced and accessible. The ultimate promise of the technology is that you’ll not waste time or resources targeting, say, middle-aged moms—but a specific woman and her interests, at just the right time.

A little scary, yes. And maybe annoying, as naggy little ads follow you around the web.

My thought, and perhaps my prediction, is that one day soon my B&N experience will exist online—that I’ll virtually wander around, being shown things that are not only of direct interest to me in the moment, but of indirect interest as well. I’ll see exactly what I want, and enjoy a few other unexpected surprises.

The question is, will that ever fully replace the experience of sauntering around a store, just checking things out, and walking out a little time later with Ben Franklin’s life story in tow?

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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