Marketers don't often talk about failing to achieve the return on investment for online search marketing campaigns, as the technology supporting the medium continues to become more complicated. The fact is that technology and technologists building the platforms are less than perfect. Not just technology supporting search marketing -- but display, retargeting, behavioral, location-based mobile and more. And we can't forget the most basic tool -- email. Here's a personal experience I've been holding close to the vest, as I decide whether or not to share it.
Simply put, marketers may strive for perfection, but after a decade or more of use, even the most rudimentary technology email still requires technologists to work out the kinks. Take the name Laurie Sullivan, for example. It's pretty common. As a matter of fact, a search on google.com turns up Laurie Sullivan the lawyer, the clinical social worker, the Bank of America equity loan officer, and the Battle Creek city commissioner in Michigan.
Google, however, doesn't serve up information on the two Laurie Sullivans I've come to know during the past few years as a result of email glitches: the wife of a high-ranking U.S. government official (something I learned after calling one of her friends who put their phone number in the email); and the Nestle Waters employee who lives in Texas. In fact, I've been following the lives of several Laurie Sullivans through emails I have received for about three years.
Privacy advocates and government officials concerned with data leaks and personally identifiable information should turn their attention to email. I've tried to stop the flow of misdirected emails. Some addressees include their phone number, so I call them asking that they please relay the message to the correct Laurie Sullivan. Since these emails come to me through Laurie Sullivan's friends, family and business associates, I know where they dine, the number of children they have, their vacation destinations and family outings, and their business transactions.
This morning I received a confirmation email from DHL. According to the email, I work at Nestle Waters and printed a shipping label for a package sent to Metro Richelieu. I know the specific recipient, but I won't name her. Luckily, DHL provided me with a phone number to call Laurie Sullivan. I naturally assumed she had an email address similar to mine and someone mistyped the information into the "please include your email so we can send a receipt" box. Not the case. Her email is totally different -- except that she spells her name the same way.
In the case of the wife of the high-ranking U.S. government official: yes, I believe her email is similar to mine, and somehow either she keeps giving out the incorrect address or Google Gmail continues to route emails intended for her to me. Ladies, please -- you all lead fascinating lives, but I'm sure you want to keep the personal information among family and friends.
The message of this story: the complexity of online ad-serving and targeting will continue to improve in time. Nothing is perfect. So, marketers -- relax, enjoy and learn from mishaps and mistakes. Don't think of them as failures, but rather a learning experience to improve on.