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The Human Nature of Consumer CRM

The Web has certainly revolutionized how consumers shop. It has enabled an entirely deeper CRM capability and speed in delivering messages, special offers, transaction data, etc. In fact, marketers have prophesied that the next step in CRM is near total abandonment of traditional consumer advertising, both print and broadcast, and almost total adoption of real-time targeted marketing, a.k.a. inbound marketing, via the internet. An example would be as you enter a Web site, you will be presented with personalized messages, based on data the advertiser has stored on you regarding purchase history, online activity, and promotion participation, along with financial and demographic information, as well. And this will trigger true shopper bliss.


Now, as an obsessive marketer myself, I have to say I’m ready to jump on the bandwagon, emotionally. However, as I step back and analyze what is truly meant, here, I have to question the validity of such a claim. Perhaps it is not the objective that troubles me, but the premise. And the reason is simple: to shop is a comfort to real shoppers. It is a safe activity, meaning that you are participating in an activity that you control, you direct, and you make decisions for what you will shop. Oh, and you might want some degree of help at different points in the process.


Four short years ago we were working with a company that was attempting to sell an in-store, in-lane system that would provide real-time, personal marketing. The client worked very hard on all presentations, yet failed to achieve adoption with a single retailer. My marketing instinct tells me that they would meet the same fate, today.


Why? First of all, because of human nature. After all, part of the human experience is shopping. Most people don’t want to be told what they want. They just want you to have and deliver it when they find it. In fact, some enjoy the experience of the hunt, not even knowing what they want before they set out to discover it. The Web site, then, provides a new world in which to experience this new discovery. However, the value of the experience is relatively unchanged.


Secondly, because of human nature. Consumers feel as though technology is greatly responsible for unwanted intrusions into their private life, already. With out-of-control spam, strange targeted messages that include their names and seem to read their minds, and telemarketing calls that appear to coincide with recent online activity (and often do), consumers are likely emotionally negative toward more of the same, especially as it relates to shopping, online or not.


Finally, because of human nature. Consumers are inundated with information. The internet has given them the ability to search for information that is highly targeted more quickly and efficiently than ever. Generally speaking, those consumers will not tolerate additional information being pushed at them. Remember how I described the shopping experience; it is about an activity that the shopper controls, at their pace. It is unlikely that the mass of online shoppers will eagerly relinquish that control to strangers, especially those that they cannot see.


All my evaluation is not meant to deny that there is great opportunity afforded the marketer seeking greater online CRM. But, the ones that are successful are the ones that can enhance, not detour, the shopping experience, which is truly human.

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