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We All Have a Price, As Long as It is a Fair One

From hotel suites to the condiment aisle, consumers are receiving increasingly personalized service based on how much they spend. And the message can show more about the sender than the receiver.

As the headlines point out regularly, organizations are rapidly learning new ways to use consumer data to better target and engage their customers. It is as if a collective switch went off and suddenly the data that was once so complex has gained newfound clarity.

But among consumers – who absolutely prefer transparency in their business dealings – this clarity can be misinterpreted as unfair.

Two recent stories underscore this lesson. One reported that the online travel agency Orbitz.com began showing Mac users different, sometimes more expensive, hotels because its data showed these customers tend to spend 30 percent more on a room.

A second story revealed that Tesco is sending its customers different online promotions, determined by how much they spend. Big spenders get offers for top-shelf goods and brands, while those who spend less are sent promos for lower-cost items.

Both events resulted in consumers reacting to what was, at its root, a feeling of being treated unfairly, and in some cases being gouged. So how do companies engage customers at different ends of the potential spending spectrum without appearing to take advantage?

It is understood that businesses need to make a profit to exist. The usual way consumers engage in the “price game” is to note the regular price and then look for specials that may be available. In a targeted marketing environment, it goes without saying that businesses are customizing content in order to be more relevant to the customer. The problems begin when a company presents the customer with only one option in its effort to be both relevant and to create greater profits, a strategy that could ignore the fact that higher-end consumers are also interested in relevant, but perhaps more economical, offers.

Understanding what defines “value” to the consumer in every situation is a tough equation to solve. The answer is to take your cues from the ways a customer deals with the buying experience in a traditional purchase environment. If you’re not sure of the “value” the customer is seeking, then present a range of experiences, but do highlight those that the data shows would be most relevant. In the Orbitz.com case, it would mean taking the cues about Mac users but not exclusively presenting higher-end offerings as part of the experience.

From hotels to the grocery aisle, consumers expect to be treated fairly. Data doesn’t choose sides, but it does help us define and enhance the overall customer experience. As marketers, it can help us focus on honest interactions.

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