July 13, 2018

Predictive analytics

An article in The New York Times Magazine included the story of a man who walked into a Minneapolis Target store and demanded to see the manager. He was furious at Target for mailing an ad booklet to his teenage daughter.

“My daughter got this in the mail! She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The store manager looked at the mailer, and the coupons for Target’s best baby gear were indeed addressed to the man’s daughter. Wanting to diffuse the situation, the manager assured him he would investigate and follow up directly.

A few days later, the store manager called the man at home. But before he could explain that his store wasn’t responsible for mailing coupons to customers, the man interrupted:

“I had a talk with my daughter. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

Target knew she was pregnant before her dad did.

Target keynote at PAWCon 2010

Target’s predictive analytics identified trends in the daughter’s purchase habits that indicated she might be approaching her second trimester—a key moment when expectant mothers begin purchasing maternity clothes and car seats and baby carriers—and mailed her a personalized ad booklet with a variety of coupons, some of which included promotions for the latest baby gear.

That variety of coupons bundled in her hyper-targeted baby mailer is key because no one wants to feel like they’re being spied on. If she believes everyone else in her neighborhood received the same mailer, that she isn’t being singled out as a teen mom-to-be, then she’s more likely to use those coupons to purchase the maternity clothes and car seat and baby carrier she needs, and also the groceries and beauty products and paper towels as well.

2018 Brian Rose