While I've never done an actual audit of my mail, I'm guessing that when a gender is inferred (e.g., Mr. or Mrs. Loren McDonald), one-third to one-half of my mail assumes that Loren is a female. (BTW, generally, "Loren" is the masculine spelling and "Lauren" the feminine spelling.)
Similarly, my wife surprises people all the time when she meets them in person the first time after previously speaking with them only on the phone.
She often sees quite the look of astonishment when people discover that she is a tall, black-haired Chinese woman, not a blonde or brunette Caucasian. Because her last name is McDonald, many people simply make several assumptions. Being Asian is typically not one of them.
Finally, as you read this, many of you are saying to yourself, "Loren, you fine Irish lad, whatever is your point?" Well, that's another assumption.
Actually, I'm three-quarters Swedish and one-quarter Lithuanian. Not a touch of Irish in my genes. And yet, I get Irish references to my heritage all the time.
As humans and as marketers, we have to remember that it's dangerous to make assumptions about people. Imposing your own stereotypes and assumptions on people in your database or communications programs is a very bad habit.
The downside of wrong assumptions about your customers and prospects goes beyond potentially annoying them and even hurting your brand. It can also hurt your bottom line by continually sending subscribers offers and communications based on "bad" data -- or, almost worse yet, no data.
As marketers, we obviously have to make some assumptions about people in our database. If you sell mountain-biking equipment, it is probably a fair assumption that someone who opts in to your program is interested in mountain biking.
If you sell winter sports equipment, and someone's first purchase is a snowboard and boots, you might logically conclude he or she is a snowboarder and not a downhill skier. You might be correct, but, of course, the purchase could have been for a spouse, child or friend.
So, how can you avoid or minimize potentially embarrassing and costly mistakes by assuming the wrong things about your customers and subscribers?
Here are a few tips:
Capture basic data: I recently received an email promoting engagement rings from the most respected brand in jewelry. Sorry, folks, but I've been married for 26 years and have no use for an engagement ring. This kind of gaffe caused by a lazy approach to marketing could be rectified simply by collecting 3-4 demographics during opt-in.
Capture the right data out of the gate: If you sell men's and women's apparel, capture gender. If your core offerings are downhill skis and snowboards, capture subscriber preferences. These baseline demographics and preferences can be overlaid with behavior and purchase data later on to create a more accurate profile.
Don't make careless assumptions: A client of ours sells maternity and post-maternity clothing online. As part of the registration process, it captures the baby's expected birth date.
You might think this would trigger a "Congratulations on Your New Baby" email as part of the cross-sell transition to post-maternity clothing. But, because not every pregnancy ends in a birth, this client refrains from sending a potentially poorly timed or hurtful email message.
Instead, it bases its post-maternity transition emails on actual purchases.
Use preference centers: While most marketers will tell you that behavior trumps preferences, capturing a customer's basic interests and preferences enable you to increase potential conversions simply by being more relevant and timely with your message.
Capture additional information during purchase/conversion activities: Add a field to your purchase form that indicates whether the purchase is a gift or for buyers themselves. If it's a gift, invite the buyer to fill out his or her own preference list.
Please share below the worst assumptions you've made as a marketer or seen in email sent to you, or approaches you take to create a more accurate subscriber profile.