June 19, 2014


Indulge me for a moment, while I share a story with you.

It's early 2003. I'm the Vice President of Database Marketing at Nordstrom. About three months prior, I moved from the website/catalog side of the business, and was now supporting those channels along with all retail direct marketing activities. A marketing director enters my office, unannounced. We have a conversation that goes something like this:

Marketing Director: Hi Kevin, my name is Barry (not the real name).

Kevin: Hi Barry, nice to meet you.

Barry: Why are you ruining our brand?

Kevin: Excuse me?

Barry: Look at this (Barry sets down a catalog from the website division). Just look at this piece of crap.

Kevin: You don't like it?

Barry: It's not aspirational. It is a bunch of old women wearing merchandise that old women buy. It is not reflective of the aspirational store experience we're trying to create.

Kevin: I'm not responsible for the merchandise in the catalog.

Barry: But you're ruining the brand!

Kevin: I'm not responsible for the creative in the catalog.

Barry: Just look at it! It's hideous. This is embarrassing to the Nordstrom family.

Kevin: Nobody from the Nordstrom family told me it is embarrassing.

Barry: I'm telling you it is!

Kevin: Why are you telling me it is embarrassing?

Barry: Because you determine who receives the catalog. Stop poisoning my customers with your crap.

Kevin: Your customers?

Barry: Exactly. How can I inspire a professional woman to be all she can be when you mail her this crap?

Kevin: But your customer segment is one of the most profitable catalog segments on the entire customer file of 8,000,000 twelve-month buyers.

Barry: So?

Kevin: So I can demonstrate that we generate profit by mailing 10,000 customers just like you. I can actually make an argument that I am helping the brand, and by generating profit, I am able to make sure that you receive a large bonus at the end of the year.

Barry: But at what cost?

Kevin: By mailing customers like you, I generate profit.

Barry: But you only get 3 out of 100 customers to buy something. Stop mailing the other 97 people. I'm one of the 97 you should not mail.

Kevin: I can't predict the 97 people who will buy out of 100 people.

Barry: That's you job, isn't it? You're failing at your job.

Kevin: That's not how it works, Barry. I can predict how 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 folks will respond. Nobody can predict how one person will respond. Heck, you don't even know what you're going to have to eat for dinner tonight, but I should be able to predict the day you will buy something eight weeks in advance?

Barry: I'm just giving you some friendly advice. You are ruining the brand.

Kevin: Last year, my team was responsible for generating $20,000,000 of incremental sales and $6,000,000 of incremental profit by using the techniques we use to determine who receives catalogs and email campaigns.

Barry: But you ruin the brand in the process. What good is all that profit if you ruin the brand?

Kevin: Show me the metrics that prove that I ruin the brand? Company sales? Company profit? Cash flow? Stock price? Are any of those metrics looking particularly sour?

Barry: I don't need metrics, I have this hideous catalog in my hand. That's the metric that counts. Stop mailing it.

Have you ever had a conversation like this?

We keep reading about being "data driven". There is no amount of data-driven goodness that convinces a person like Barry to move from his position. None. Barry has a belief, and Barry is going to stand behind his belief, no matter what metrics you share with Barry.

It doesn't matter how much data you have, or how much proof you have. There is a third of the audience you are never going to convert to your side, no matter how much data you have in your favor. Ignore them. Stop wasting time on them.

A third of your audience trusts you.

A third of your audience can be convinced.

A third of your audience will never be on your side.

Focus on the folks who trust you.

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