Rarely do moments like this occur. Last week, while watching the evening news (yes, I still watch news), I was horrified by the continued coverage of the cruise ship disaster in Italy. But, while watching the coverage, I was wading through my mail and opened a direct mail piece (also a rare event) that I had just received. To my horror, I found an offer from American Express to sign up for the Costa Concordia cruise. Worse still, it offered to “immerse” me in a truly European experience. To make things even worse, notice the typo in the headline?

While marketers strive to achieve messaging relevance that would make you stop what you’re doing and take notice, this execution in particular was a case of bad timing and lack of foresight into the implications of marketing campaigns already in flight.

What lessons does this highlight for customer intelligence (CI)?

  • Agility. In our research, we find that direct mail is one of the top channels that CI professionals favor over other channels. Despite CI’s heavy use of direct mail, this faux pas no doubt occurred because of the cycle time between the cruise ship disaster and the direct mail drop.
    • CI Pros: Speed up CI processes to provide greater organizational value. Apply principles of agile development to CI, especially to channels that are not inherently real-time, such as direct mail in this case.
  • Empathy. While American Express may not have been able to stop the direct mail delivery, it knew who would receive it and could have contacted recipients through other channels to apologize preemptively.
    • CI Pros: React in real time. Had I received an email in the day or two prior to receiving the direct mail piece, I would probably have ended up with a net positive view of the company’s communication (it would have shown that the company knew who I was) regardless of channel — and I would have known that the company was concerned with my emotional reaction to its marketing, particularly at such a sensitive time.
  • Automation. While CI relies on creating automated campaign processes, the flexibility to change campaign rules in midstream to account for environmental changes is as important as ensuring that the campaign is contextually relevant and timely for the customer.
    • CI Pros: Examine campaign launch processes more closely. Build in manual interventions during campaign planning processes that would catch such marketing campaigns before they occur, even if this means having someone outside the CI team periodically audit campaign launch processes.

Just as IT needs recovery plans in place to ensure business continuity when critical technologies go down, CI pros should think through their recovery plans for situations like this.

Well, one thing’s for sure. No cruises for me.