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Right Person, Right Place, Right Time, WRONG Message

by John Bastone

Jun 18, 2015
It has been a draining 2 months. Hockey’s 2nd season is now over, and with it, the countless nights of watching, hoping, screaming, and praying that the Tampa Bay Lightning will prevail.  It wasn’t meant to be this year, with the Chicago Blackhawks beating the good guys in game 6, but it was a hell of a roller coaster ride, due to plenty of moments like this.

Did you know that there is a scientific basis in the range of emotions we feel when our teams win or lose, being as acute as if we were on the team ourselves?  Because the hormonal responses to wins and losses are physiologically the same, some of us are as happy or sad as the players themselves!  

So while the close of this season’s playoffs gave me a scientific excuse to feel as low as Tyler Johnson's beard, what I didn’t expect was to also feel inspired to write an analytics-oriented, hockey themed blog post.  Though inspiration, along with a range of other emotions was what I received, when I opened the sports section of my newspaper the morning after the Stanley Cup ended, and came across this:


Three thoughts hit me in rapid succession, as I digested (pun totally intended) the Chicago-based restaurant franchise ad on the left:

  1. “Cheer up Tampa”…ha ha…nice joke…very funny.
  2. Wait, what?  This is a real ad?
  3. Eating at Portillo’s is supporting the Chicago Blackhawks…I will now never eat at Portillo’s (until we beat Chicago next year)

Don’t get me wrong, the former marketer in me admires the moxie of having this ad hit within hours of the Stanley Cup ending.  But the Tampa resident and Lightning fan in me who witnessed the defeat of his team just hours prior, really dislikes it.  Do you know what’s the WORST thing you can say to someone who is mired in depression?  That would be “cheer up”.  So congratulations for opening your ad by saying the worst possible thing to all of Tampa Bay, Portillo’s.  When you have the attention of several million people, it’s best to not add to our collective sorrow.

And it’s getting the message right that’s the heart of this post, and my pivot point towards a discussion on analytics.  Lost in today’s deafening “Big Data” driven noise about better understanding all “360 degrees” of a customer, how often are we forgetting that the 4th leg of the marketing stool: right person, right place and right time…is getting the message right for the audience you’re trying to reach?  You underinvest in that piece and your ensuring the most relevant audience may be receiving exactly the wrong message across all channels simultaneously.  Portillo’s is a convenient and timely example of this fatal error that litters the marketing landscape from companies of all sizes, like this…


Admittedly, it is hard for an ad to be all things to all people in a mass medium such as a newspaper, billboard, or elevator doors.  But other mediums, like direct mail, email, call center, and websites, often know who I am, have the benefit of more dynamic mediums, and yet fail just as badly.  The great news is marketers increasingly recognize this blind spot, and are allocating resources to address it.  In one recent survey, when marketers where asked the one capability that was most important, personalization topped the list.  Personalization happens to be any area where analytics techniques are increasingly being leveraged with great success.  Optimization is one technique, for example, that can reconcile a seemingly infinite combination of offers, customers, channels, timing to arrive at the best possible communication to every customer, every time.

So don’t fall into the trap of thinking better understanding your customers is the end game to any transformative project involving customer data.  Your customers don’t benefit from that wealth of insights unless you actually DO something with that data.  “360 degree customer view”, “customer- centricity”, “customer analytics”, “big data”, etc., are all synonyms for the on-ramp in any customer-centric initiative, not the destination.  Make sure it is reflected as such in your technology roadmap, or if you’re not exactly sure about all of the necessary steps on the journey, ask for help (I know a guy).  Forgetting this, risks having your own Portillo’s moment.  And rest assured, your shareholders won’t be telling you to “cheer up”.