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Dear Major Credit Card Company: How About Getting to Know Me?

Brian Cantor

Dear major credit card company: if you want my business, it is time for you to actually get to know me.

In this era of "Big Data" and insight-driven marketing, it is absurd to see how few brands take that evolution to heart. Ignoring so many opportunities to create detailed customer profiles and connect intimately with the target audience, they rely on generic, antiquated marketing tactics and then wonder why conversions remain weak.

Thanks to social media, companies, in a matter of seconds, can learn where I work, where I went to school, which brands I like, which celebrities I idolize, who I support politically, with whom I am friends, what kinds of products I buy, what kinds of media I consume, for whom I voted on "American Idol" and where I see myself in ten years. They have access to so many of the qualities that make me tick, so many of the defining factors that affect my purchasing.

And dating back to the many years preceding the rise of social, these brands still had efficient means of building out comprehensive customer databases, learning who responds to which kinds of marketing and how to capitalize on those responses going forward. Brands don’t even need an Internet connection to be able to map how I respond to direct mail campaigns, and yet, few operate as if they have any sense of my behavior whatsoever.

It is time for brands to do better.

Over the past few months, one major credit card company has, like clockwork, sent me a weekly mailing promoting its services (almost reaching the point of harassment). Equally habitually, I throw the envelope away without reading it. Each and every week.

This company has never heard a response from me. I have never logged onto its website, never called or emailed to inquire; Hell, I have never even read through the materials. And yet ,the brand’s marketing strategy remains powerfully obtuse, sending mailings that speak to general sales concerns rather than anything that remotely resembles a personal pain point.

I get the theory behind direct mail, and I know it can be very effective. I know it is a relatively low-impact way to assure the message gets placed in front of the customer, and I know lines like "0% Introductory APR" and "You’ve Already Been Approved" resonate with many potential customers.

But those businesses who are blinded by the tradition and possibly even the success rate of direct mailings need to consider the risks of their strategy. Customer-centricity is about making your brand accessible to the needs, wants and intricacies of each customer, and every meaningless, impersonal mailing I receive from the brand speaks to how removed it is from that concept. The campaign is built entirely around the notion of "Brian Cantor, potential customer #791349," rather than "Brian Cantor, the customer who cares about [insert my specific credit card tastes]."

By continuing to mail an assortment of "trial and error" attempts at clicking with my preferences, this brand is not simply failing to whet my appetite. Since I know that it is not making the slightest bit of effort to understand me as a unique customer, I am increasingly likely to conclude that this brand is not customer-centric.

Instead of wasting time and damaging its reputation with this dated, worthless mailing campaign, why not strive for a more meaningful, personal form of communication that will color in the lines of my true customer profile. A direct, one-on-one phone call between a human representative and me, a human customer, will yield valuable insights into what makes me tick as a customer. The agent will gain all he needs to know to sell me on a card and convince me that this brand cares about my personal satisfaction.

Certainly, I realize there are some limitations on whether the brand can cold call all of its prospective customers. I realize that many individuals possess an inherent barrier to telemarketing that will dampen the impact of the sales pitch.

And that assumes the customer even picks up the phone, which is far from a foregone conclusion in an era of cell phones and default caller ID.

My recommendation is not, therefore, that brands immediately replace their direct mailing campaigns with telemarketing campaigns. Even ignoring the aforementioned weaknesses in a telemarketing strategy, it is also true that an outbound phone campaign, in philosophy, is not necessarily more personalized than a mailing campaign. Plenty of inbound and outbound call center agents lack the slightest clue on how to relate to individual customers.

Rather, it is a call for brands to appeal to me personally rather than robotically. If brands can build a direct mailing campaign around custom insights, then it might very well benefit by doing so. But when the brand is not making a concerted effort to understand who I am and what I want, its egregious, non-stop mailings are doubly offensive.

Now is the time to be bold and insight-driven with customer management strategy. Contact me via social media to discuss the New York Knicks, and then subtly hint that I can get discounted Knicks tickets as a cardholder. Call me to talk finance rather than to sell credit cards. Build relationships and, more importantly, build a lasting profile that will help you meaningfully align product offerings with my own needs.

At the click of a mouse or the press of a few buttons on my phone, I can browse through a selection of millions of products from across the globe. Technology has assured I am no longer held prisoner by economic pragmatism; I can get the exact products I want from the exact brands with whom I want a relationship.

In order to reach me, brands therefore have to build a world around me. Their array of marketing and customer management materials and interactions should represent a customized "Truman Show" by being constructed entirely for me.

This is not attainable through indifference. It will not happen as a consequence of generic, impersonal mailings and voice recordings.

It will only happen once the brand realizes that its goal is not simply to reach me or even sell to me—its goal must be to know who I am and why my business should find comfort under its umbrella.