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Has Data Mining Gone Too Far?

Aug 10, 2014

The recent revelation that Facebook experimented on users has thrust the issue of data mining once again onto the front page. There’s a lot of controversy around it, with some people arguing that data mining enables companies to serve customers better and others arguing that companies know too much about us.

If you’ve ever searched on Amazon for a pair of running shoes then visited Facebook and saw the exact pair advertised, you are probably, like most of us, at once creeped out and fascinated. After all, isn’t that useful, especially if the Facebook ad gave you additional information that Amazon didn’t that would help you make the purchase decision. Then again, it represents a huge-scale collection of data about everything we do in the digital sphere.

While data mining can be incredibly beneficial, when does it become too much?

The latest data mining “trend” – and the inspiration for this article – takes it to a new level. We’re now hearing that health professionals could start using our personal information to “better our health care experience.” Does that mean if you are a smoker with emphysema and you pick up a pack of cigarettes and the local convenience store, you might get a “tsk tsk” call from your doctor?

Or maybe you purchased a pregnancy test, or started shopping at a plus size store. That information might be used by your doctor or insurance company to better treat you, to offer you important information, or – on the flip side, to raise your insurance rates. Once again, this use of data can be very beneficial for everyone involved. But it can also go too far. Where is that line? 

Data mining “invasions” push consumers to favor direct mail

In this context, many consumers feel like their personal information is being taken away. That frustration is driving some away from online tools. And that has meant a resurgence in the effectiveness of “traditional” marketing tools, like direct mail. While mail marketing can be targeted to the prospect (by name, for example), it is typically not viewed as an invasion of privacy.

Of course, effective marketers use data in direct mail too. For example, you can purchase a mailing list segmented by age, gender, family size, income, and many other variables. In other words, marketers can still effectively “personalize” their marketing messages for each prospect. And that seems to be a level of knowledge that consumers are comfortable for marketers to have. Start embedding cameras in direct mail, and that’s another story altogether. (Disclaimer: That is not functionality Click2Mail has or plans to implement.)

So while news like Facebook toying with users emotions can be shocking from a consumer’s perspective, it reiterates the fact that direct mail absolutely does still have its place in the marketer’s toolbox. The creepier digital marketing gets, the more we expect direct mail marketing to resurge.