We’ve all heard the (true) story: a father calls his local Target® store irate over the fact that his high school daughter received a flyer in the mail congratulating her on being pregnant, and offering her a discount on baby products. The manager at the local Target® store, of course, had no idea why the man’s daughter would receive such a coupon, but nonetheless apologized profusely. Two days later, the manager calls the man to apologize again, and instead of encountering an angry father, he hears the following: ‘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.’
The story, while entertaining, begs the question why, and more importantly, how did Target® know a shopper was pregnant before her father did? The answer, now widely known, is simple: to reap the benefits of data-driven marketing.
It turns out that most consumers are not swayed by marketers’ ploys and tricks to purchase a certain product, or convert to a specific brand. In the 1980s, a team of UCLA researchers began a study of peoples’ most mundane purchases: toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, etc. They learned that most consumers paid little to no attention to these products; rather the purchases were habitual, without any complex decision-making. Fortunately for marketers there was a glimmer of hope: the researchers found that consumers going through a major life change were an exception to this rule and, in fact, were very susceptible to marketing tactics.