How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did
Every time you go shopping, you share intimate details about your consumption patterns with retailers. And many of those retailers are studying those details to figure out what you like, what you need, and which coupons are most likely to make you happy. Target, for example, has figured out how to data-mine its way into your womb, to figure out whether you have a baby on the way long before you need to start buying diapers.
Charles Duhigg outlines in the New York Times how Target tries to hook parents-to-be at that crucial moment before they turn into rampant — and loyal — buyers of all things pastel, plastic, and miniature. He talked to Target statistician Andrew Pole — before Target freaked out and cut off all communications — about the clues to a customer’s impending bundle of joy. Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number, tied to their credit card, name, or email address that becomes a bucket that stores a history of everything they’ve bought and any demographic information Target has collected from them or bought from other sources. Using that, Pole looked at historical buying data for all the ladies who had signed up for Target baby registries in the past. From the NYT:
[Pole] ran test after test, analyzing the data, and before long some useful patterns emerged. Lotions, for example. Lots of people buy lotion, but one of Pole’s colleagues noticed that women on the baby registry were buying larger quantities of unscented lotion around the beginning of their second trimester. Another analyst noted that sometime in the first 20 weeks, pregnant women loaded up on supplements like calcium, magnesium and zinc. Many shoppers purchase soap and cotton balls, but when someone suddenly starts buying lots of scent-free soap and extra-big bags of cotton balls, in addition to hand sanitizers and washcloths, it signals they could be getting close to their delivery date.
Or have a rather nasty infection…
As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.
One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August.
And perhaps that it’s a boy based on the color of that rug?
So Target started sending coupons for baby items to customers according to their pregnancy scores. Duhigg shares an anecdote — so good that it sounds made up — that conveys how eerily accurate the targeting is. An angry man went into a Target outside of Minneapolis, demanding to talk to a manager:
Target knows before it shows.
“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”
The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.
(Nice customer service, Target.)
On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”
What Target discovered fairly quickly is that it creeped people out that the company knew about their pregnancies in advance.
“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”
Bold is mine. That’s a quote for our times.
So Target got sneakier about sending the coupons. The company can create personalized booklets; instead of sending people with high pregnancy scores books o’ coupons solely for diapers, rattles, strollers, and the “Go the F*** to Bed” book, they more subtly spread them about:
“Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance.
“And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”
So the Target philosophy towards expecting parents is similar to the first date philosophy? Even if you’ve fully stalked the person on Facebook and Google beforehand, pretend like you know less than you do so as not to creep the person out.
Duhigg suggests that Target’s gangbusters revenue growth — $44 billion in 2002, when Pole was hired, to $67 billion in 2010 — is attributable to Pole’s helping the retail giant corner the baby-on-board market, citing company president Gregg Steinhafel boasting to investors about the company’s “heightened focus on items and categories that appeal to specific guest segments such as mom and baby.”
Target was none too happy about Duhigg’s plans to write this story. They refused to let him go to Target headquarters. When he flew out anyway, he discovered he was on a list of prohibited visitors.
I think most readers of the excellent piece will find it both unsettling and unsurprising. With all the talk these days about the data grab most companies are engaged in, Target’s collection and analysis seem as expected as its customers’ babies. But with their analysis moving into areas as sensitive as pregnancy, and so accurately, who knows how else they might start profiling Target shoppers? The store’s bulls-eye logo may now send a little shiver of fear down the closely-watched spines of some, though I can promise you that Target is not the only store doing this. Those people chilled by stores’ tracking and profiling them may want to consider going the way of the common criminal — and paying for far more of their purchases in cash.
Internet Marketing – 12 Step Program
The class is taught by the two of the leading authorities in the Atlanta Internet Marketing industry. Brandon and Kelly have been performing and instructing all facets of Internet Marketing for years and have developed a reputation as the leading Social Media, SEO, and Internet Marketing services in the Greater Atlanta Area.
This class is intended for SBO’s and Internet Marketing professionals who are looking for a more comprehensive approach to their online marketing strategy. The cumulative effect of using all available options to market your service on the internet creates online momentum that truly is greater than the sum of its parts, and one that continues to snowball into pure profit when executed proplerly. Simply, we will teach you how to do it right.
- Website Design Overview & How to hire a web developer
- Analytics Overview
- Social Media – The Big 4 – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare
- Blogging Strategies
- Email Marketing
- Content Management
- Understanding SEO & How to interview an SEO
- Places and Maps
- Industry specific opportunities
- Offline Marketing
Breakfast and lunch will be served.
Please bring your laptop.
For SEO’s and Internet Marketing Trainers, here’s a great graphic for SEO Ranking Factors.
In just the blink of an eye it will be 2012. And with that comes the opportunity for us to focus in on the hottest trends of the upcoming New Year, and maybe even those that eluded us in years prior. While you’re putting the finishing touches on your action plan for 2012, let’s dig into some of the hot Internet trends for SMBs to watch over the next 12 months. After all, you want to kick off the New Year on the right foot, don’t you?
Of course you do.
It was during November’s PubCon Vegas show that distinguished Google engineer Matt Cutts stood in front of a packed room and encouraged search marketers to focus on three areas over the next year:
While these areas were certainly hot in 2011, the data shows they’re only going to heat up from here.
The year 2011 saw a 400 percent increase in the number of mobile searches, with 74 percent of people using their mobile phones to search while running errands. For Black Friday this year we even saw advertisers attempting to lure customers away and steal competitor sales while they were waiting on line to make a purchase, asThe New York Times reports.
Piggybacking off the explosion of mobile are social networks trying to get in on the action. Mashable reports Facebook just bought Gowalla’s management team to help them tie proximity to intent, while SearchEngineLand reports FourSquare recently released the new FourSquare button to add your place to their ToDo lists to help customers find you before they even realized a need was there. It’s awareness through relevance and, if you’re a small business owner, it’s a fantastic way to appeal to new customers.
In the face of the SoLoMo revolution, SMBs must not only adapt to new screens but also to new ways of reaching customers.
Using Online Reviews As Social Signals
Focusing on online reviews is not new, but in 2012 its continued importance will be driven by two impressive factors.
1. A Shift in Buying Behaviors: A study from NM Incite showed us that 63 percent of social media users list “consumer ratings” as their preferred source for getting information about a business, product or service. Data shared by Gregg Stewart during March’s SMX West event told us that 32 percent of all searches expect to find ratings and review information. And when they don’t, they wonder:
- Why aren’t you visible in search?
- Why aren’t people naturally reviewing your product/service?
- Why has no one used you before?
- Why don’t others trust you?
Once they’re done with the “why” questions, they simply go search for a business that does have this information available. They go to your competitor.
2. Social Brings Accountability: It’s not just consumers who love online reviews; so does Google. Google looks at reviews as just one of many social signals that will bring accountability back into their algorithm. Google is so serious about accountability and social signals that they even built a new social network around it called Google+. Here consumers are forced to interact on the Web using their real names and identities. That changes the types of interactions that are taking place. Search engines want to return the best possible experience, and an increased focus on social signals is one way they’re looking to do that.
The combination of users looking for this type of social data and Google wanting to display it is a clear sign that SMBs need to invest in this area. In 2012, the SMBs that will be left behind will the ones who have not developed a strategy for how they’ll solicit online reviews, how they’ll manage them, and how they will respond to negative reviews that pop up around their businesses.
A Move Into the Cloud
Cloud computing alternatives will continue to go mainstream in the upcoming year, RingCentral says, as SMBs look to save money and gain access to resources they wouldn’t have otherwise. If you’re not familiar with the term, cloud computing refers to using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store and manage data instead of hosting it on your local server.
For example, instead of hosting your email on your personal computer, if you use Gmail, they host it for you. Or maybe you use DropBox to store your media instead of putting it on a local server at your office. The benefits of moving into the cloud are obvious:
- Low barrier to entry: All you need is an Internet connection to take advantage of most cloud computing options.
- More accessibility: You can log in and edit your data from anywhere.
- Easier scalability: You can add storage or licenses as your company grows and as you need them.
- Reduced costs: You’re only paying for what you use and you are responsible for none of the overhead.
Through the use of cloud computing, SMBs can run their businesses more smoothly thanks to established infrastructure they don’t have to build (or pay for) on their own.
Of course, moving into the cloud does pose some issues. For example, check out the next big trend for 2012…
Yes, with more businesses using Web-based services and with hackers shifting their attacks to smaller firms, site security is a major issues for SMBs in 2012. Hackers are setting their eyes on small computer users who they know will have weaker security systems in place and who, The Huffington Post reports, still think hacking can’t happen to them.
Only it can. And it is.
If you think your SMB is safe from hacking because you have nothing “worth stealing,” think again. Even a local pizza joint that delivers will have access to tens of dozens, maybe hundreds, of street addresses and credit card numbers. And that’s all the hackers are after. Protect yourself by putting basic security measures in place like changing default passwords often, setting up strong firewalls, and not falling prey to the kinds of phishing scams or malicious emails that Security News reports.
Going App Crazy
What else has the proliferation of smart phones done besides make us all mobile-crazy? It’s also driven us app crazy. And it’s not just Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds, either. We’re turning to apps to help us run our businesses and be more efficient and, we hope, more profitable.
- Apps like Shoeboxed and Expensify help SMBs keep track of purchase history and create expense reports.
- Quickbooks Mobile (Android, iPhone) and Freshbooks MiniBooks help SMBs create invoices, access customer data and manage balances while away from their computer.
- Payment processing apps like Square or Intuit’s Go Payment make sales easier, allowing business owners to accept payments on the go.
- The Iconosys Tax Deduction Tracker allows a business owner to document tax-deductible items in real time.
The adoption of business applications will allow SMBs to streamline tasks and do more faster and easier.
Those are the five hot Internet trends I think small business owners should be aware of in 2012. Are you ready?
1. Claim everything: Your brand is your identity in business. If you haven’t already taken the steps to protect it and claim your username throughout the Web, start the year off by doing just that. Knowem is a fantastic service that allows you to easily search and claim more than 550 popular social networking sites at little cost. Even if you don’t plan on using all 500 (or even five) of these sites, protecting your username will ensure that you’re able to use them in the future should you change your mind AND that no one else can hijack your brand’s identity and speak to your customers. It’s your first step to social media success.
2. Pick two social media sites and focus on them: Just because Knowem allows you to claim more than 500 social media profiles, doesn’t mean you have to use all of them. Instead, focus on 2-3 social media sites, sites where you know your audience is and that may already be delivering traffic, and really invest in devoting time there. For example, maybe you’ve found that you get a lot of traffic from Yelp. Why not invest more in that site by optimizing your Yelp profile, using their analytics, and taking advantage of their specials? Instead of worrying about being everywhere, focus on developing a strong presence where it counts for your business. Once you get the hang of those first two sites, you can spread your wings to some of the others.
3. Build ears: Before you really engage, work on building your ears. Listening in social media will help you identify the people you want to be talking to, the conversations worth your time, and may just prevent you from royally putting your foot in your mouth. If you need help, iGoogle can help you build a free social media dashboard or check out a service like Trackur which has cost-effective plans to help SMBs stay in the loop.
4. Agree to schedule social media into your day: If 2012 is the year you’re finally going to get serious about social media, then you really need to get serious about it. And you do that by scheduling social media into your day the same way you schedule all of your other tasks. Because that’s the only way it’s going to get done. Find a way to dedicate 30 minutes a day into updating Twitter, responding to people on Facebook or commenting on industry blogs. If you don’t schedule it, you won’t do it. It’s as simple as that.
5. Increase your online reviews: When I broke down my 5 Internet Marketing Trends for SMBs to Watch in 2012, I talked about online reviews as becoming an increasingly important social signal for the search engines. The engines are looking at reviews to help bring accountability back to the Web and, frankly, so are users. Creating a full-on online review strategy may sound intimidating, but all it really means is is encouraging your customers to talk about their experiences on the sites you want them to do the talking on. That’s nothing to be shy over. Use your Web site, your emails, your newsletter, you advertisements, and your face-to-face interactions to help them do that.
6. Blog more: Hey, I know. Sometimes it can be hard to find the time or the motivation to blog. We’ve already helped spark some blogging inspiration, now it’s time for you to dedicate the time to doing it. Even if you’re just blogging a couple times a week, it’s going to help you build a community, have something to always share with your audience, and help you in search. If you’ve been putting it off or not blogging as often as you should, 2012 is the year to fix that.
7. Read other blogs: A great way to always have something to say and blog about it is to keep up with what others are saying. Use Twitter or Google Blog Search to help you identify authoritative (or at least interesting) blogs in your space that you can use as conversation starters and as a way to stay up to date on what’s happening in your corner of the world.
8. Attend a tweetup: Do something crazy this year and leave your office. Go find out where people who do what you do are meeting and join them. Talk to them. Share with them. Online interaction can only go so far before you have to take it offline.
9. Find ways to reward fans with social media exclusives: It’s not enough to simply BE in social media. You have find ways to reward fans and give them “the why” for why it is they should like you, follow you, talk to you. Fifty-eight percent of users expect exclusive content or discounts for “liking” a brand on Facebook. That’s pretty significant. So if you’re not using your social media presence to reward customers for their interaction with you, you’re letting them down.
10. Promote your social media accounts: Have you read the nine previous resolutions? There’s some work involved there. And if you’re going to be putting in the blood, sweat and tears needed to create a powerful social presence, then you darn well better be promoting these accounts at every turn. That means making them visible on your Web site, putting their logos on your customer receipts, highlighting them in your email newsletters and on business cards, and linking to them wherever you can. Don’t hide your social media. Flaunt it.
Following are strategic steps you should take (if you haven’t already) to ensure you’re poised for social media marketing and content marketing success in 2012 and beyond (adapted from 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, McGraw-Hill 2010; and Content Marketing for Dummies, Wiley 2011).
1. Begin with Branding
The first step to joining the digital age and starting your journey on the social Web is to evaluate your own brand promise. How do you want to position yourself in the marketplace? A focused brand is a strong brand, so determine your niche and use it as your primary brand message and image.
Your audience needs to develop expectations for your brand in order to develop loyalty to it and feel secure enough in your brand message to talk about it with their own friends and connections, particularly across the social Web. You must meet audience expectations in every brand interaction or they will feel confused and turn away from your brand in search of another that does consistently meet their expectations. Don’t let your audience get away. Determine your brand promise and position and stick to it at all times.
2. Create Your Branded Online Destinations
Once you know how you want to position your brand in your audience’s minds, you can create your own branded online destinations. The destination you choose to start with is up to you and depends on the types of tools you enjoy using and feel like you can stick with for the long-term. Start a blog, create a Twitter account, get on Facebook, connect with people on LinkedIn, and get active on Google+.
Most importantly, choose one branded online destination to be your core branded online destination. This is the place where all of your online content and conversations will lead back to. It will be the central hub of your online presence and will become the go-to place for people to learn anything and everything about your brand. I recommend a blog for a core branded online destination because blogs are so search engine friendly and flexible, but the choice is yours. The most important factor is that your core branded online destination is kept fresh with new content that effectively represents your brand promise and invites interaction and sharing.
3. Find Your Best Audience
Who do you want to connect with online in order to build your brand, business and career? You can engage with existing and potential clients, online influencers, experts, customers, and more on the social Web. You simply need to determine who you want to talk to and go out and find them. Visit Google.com and type in the keywords your audience is likely to use to find brands, businesses, content and conversations like yours. Follow the links. Chances are you’ll end up finding multiple sites where your target audience already spends time.
When you find your target audiences’ online hangouts, spend some time listening to the conversations happening on those sites. What topics are important to them? What gets them excited? This type of information-gathering is extremely valuable and allows you to create your own content strategy to best meet your target audience’s existing wants and needs.
4. Join the Conversation
Look for social destinations such as blogs, Twitter profiles, Facebook pages, forums, and so on where you can interact with other people by publishing comments, asking questions, and answering questions. However, you must avoid self-promotion. No one will want to engage with you if you spend all your time trying to sell yourself or your business. Instead, apply the 80-20 rule of marketing to your activities, and make sure at least 80% of the time you spend on social media activities is not self-promotional and only 20% is self-promotional.
In time, those audiences will get to know you and develop expectations for your conversations. Eventually, you can lead them back to your own branded online destinations through links to related content. There you can deepen relationships. It’s this type of relationship-building that enables you to develop a band of brand advocates online who will talk about your brand and defend your brand against naysayers. There has never been a more powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing, and you can tap into it thanks to the social Web!
5. Publish Shareworthy Content
Believe it or not, everyone can benefit from social media because of a phenomenon I call the compounding effect of social media participation.
Here is how it works:
How do people find information about businesses in the 21st century? Do they pick up the printed Yellow Pages directory? No. They log into their computers or pick up their smartphones and visit Google where they type in keywords related to the business or professionals they want to find. You need to be represented when people search for keywords related to you and your business!
Here is how the compounding effect of social media participation can help you do it:
Imagine that you have a website for yourself or your business with 10 pages. That’s 10 entry points for Google to find your site through keyword searches. Now, imagine that you add a blog to your website and write a new blog post every day for a year. That’s 365 more entry points for Google to find your site. Next, imagine that your blog posts are incredibly useful and meaningful to your target audience. Your amazing content, which I refer to as shareworthy content, is good enough that your audience shares it with their own online connections. They might share links to your content via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, social bookmarking sites, and even in their own blog posts. Each of those links back to your blog creates additional entry points to your website.
Google ranks search engine results with a lot of incoming links (particularly from authoritative sites) higher than results with few incoming links under the assumption that no one would link to a page if the content on it was terrible. More incoming links to your website increases the likelihood that it might appear on one of the first few pages for Google keyword searches related to your business thereby driving more traffic to your site. You’ve gone from 10 entry points to your website to hundreds or thousands and increased your search engine results rankings all because you published amazing, shareworthy content.
Do you have videos you want to get out? Check out this article!
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3. Signing up for an account is free.
4. You can request 1 article or 1,000 articles to be written
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How to steal traffic like a pirate!
Are you in the “just getting started” phase of blogging where your cat and your goldfish are your only readers?
If you don’t have traffic of your own yet, the best way to get some is to take the “Pirate” approach and steal it!
But in a nice way…
Here are some simple ways to get traffic from other people’s networks:
Be Loud & Rowdy (Comment on Other Blogs)
When you comment on a blog it adds a link from your comment to your website (if you put your URL in the URL field). So get out there and be chatty!
Tip: Look for blogs that have CommentLuv enabled. You’ll get not just one link but two—one to your website and another one to your most recent blog post. Here’s a great list of CommentLuv enabled blogs:http://www.trafficgenerationcafe.com/commentluv-enabled/
Jump on the Table and Sing/Dance (Be a Guest Blogger)
Blogging as a guest on other people’s blogs is a great way to get in front of their readers and bring some of them back to your blog. It also helps establish credibility for you.
Tip: When searching for sites to guest blog at, look for ones that have readers who would be interested in your blog. If you blog about social media, try SocialMediaToday.com. If you blog about SEO, try the list atSearch Engine Journal. Get the idea? Search at AllTop or Technorati to find blogs in your niche.
Sign In & Be on the “List” (Get Listed at Blogging Directories)
There are lots of directories and search engines you can get your blog listed in. Look for directories that are based on niche, too.
Rub Shoulders with the Great Ones (Share Resources & Bloggers)
By featuring other bloggers in a post on your website, you get their attention and if it’s nice, they’re likely to tweet/share your post. You could write about them, link to a helpful post they’ve written, or even interview them for a post.
Let Others Do the Work (Feature Guest Bloggers)
Invite other bloggers to write for your blog. Guest bloggers usually bring their traffic and fans with them because they’ll promote the post when it goes live on your site.
Oh, and don’t really let others do the work. When you get a guest blogger, do what you can to drive traffic to that post, too!
Round Up Your Crew (Create a Tribe)
If you’re on Twitter, join http://triberr.com/ and create a tribe of pirate mateys. You’ll be setup to automatically Tweet out their new posts, and they’ll tweet out yours, helping all of you reach a great audience by leveraging the networks of everyone in the Tribe.
Or use HootSuite to setup each other’s RSS feeds to share with your networks automatically.
What Else Would a Pirate Do?
What other ways can you think of to build your blog by connecting with others? Get creative!
Pirate Image Credit: http://stockfresh.com/gallery/keeweeboy
Hey folks! I’ve got a free ebook from Hubspot on business blogging available.
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