Why the Ads Retailers Don’t Send Are Just as Important

Note: a version of this article previously appeared in Retail Dive.

Dads always seem to get the short end of the stick, even on holidays. Case in point: Father’s Day gift spending, which trails about $10 billion behind the pace set by Mother’s Day spending, according to the National Retail Federation. Even so, Father’s Day is big business: seventy-seven percent of Americans celebrate the holiday, spending an estimated $15.3 billion in 2018 — an average of $133 per person. 

But Father’s Day (along with Mother’s Day, Christmas and other events rooted in family ties and traditions) can be rough going for some customers. Maybe Dad recently passed away, or maybe the parent/child relationship is strained or severed. Whatever the case, carpet bombing shopper inboxes with reminders to make Father’s Day special with a new barbecue grill or cordless drill can cause irreparable damage to the customer relationship, especially when most consumers expect brands to know and understand them on an intimate level.  

“There’s something insulting about the default assumption that everybody’s mother is alive and that they have a good relationship with her — especially for an industry that increasingly prides itself on the ability to precisely target audiences with relevant messaging,” writer Elizabeth Entenman states in a Vox thinkpiece published ahead of Mother’s Day weekend. “How come Big Data doesn’t know my mom is dead? I know that excluding individuals from massive marketing opportunities is a lofty ask. But at the same time — is it? If I can be added to the list of users to target for dog treats, it only seems logical that I could also be taken off the list of users to target for Mother’s Day.”

Suppressing selected customers from media activation is not a lofty ask. In fact, it’s a strategy that retailers should employ on Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and every other day of the calendar year. 

That’s because media suppression isn’t only about improving customer relationships by exempting certain audience segments from messages they find insensitive or inappropriate, or fulfilling legal obligations to block ads to designated consumer groups (e.g., making sure promotions for alcohol or pharmaceuticals don’t target recipients below the legal age). It’s also about exempting audiences from messages that are irrelevant to their individual customer journeys. But in all suppression cases, you must have the freshest, most accurate data at your fingertips to get the optimal results.

Say you’re offering a promotional price on a women’s bike: you can safely eliminate male shoppers from the campaign, of course. If you’re collecting data insights across brand channels, you can also remove female shoppers who purchase this same bike or a similar model from your store or e-commerce site before the campaign goes live. And when you onboard customer data in real time, you can even suppress a shopper who converts in flight, turning off ads for the bike she purchased moments ago in favor of turning on ads for must-have cyclist accessories like helmets and locks. 

The impact is massive. For starters, suppression powers the personalized, contextually relevant experiences your shoppers want experiences that are proven to boost retailer revenues. You’re also sparing customers the irritations common to ad retargeting, not to mention minimizing wasted ad spend as well as maximizing the accuracy and value of your performance marketing metrics.

While Vox cites a handful of retailers allowing customers to opt out of emails promoting Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gift ideas, far too many retail brands still flood consumers with thoughtless messages all year round. For example, 88 percent of U.S. consumers receive ads for products they’ve already purchased. Blame the glacial pace of legacy data onboarders: some vendors require as long as five to seven days to upload offline data to the online environment to match with digital identifiers — a veritable eternity in the context of the customer journey.

If companies are going to keep mining our lives for data, they could at least try a little harder,” the Vox piece concludes. But effective media suppression isn’t about working harder; it’s about working smarter, and letting your customer data do the heavy lifting. Retailers that onboard their data in real time know instantly and definitively what their shoppers want, what they don’t and which actions to take next. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Originally published June 24, 2019

Jason Ankeny

Jason Ankeny was formerly Signal's Director of Content Marketing.

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