I’ve been watching all the outrage about the use of social media data and the targeting of people through demographics and psychographics to persuade them to one particular political point of view.
Putting aside the legalities and morality of using personal data without the permission of the social media subscriber, I must admit I’m amused at the outrage by journalists about using techniques that have been used by marketers for years.
Imagine wanting to find out what a particular group of customers might want and prefer before sitting down to craft a message. What a shock! Please! If someone didn’t sit down and do just that they would be a lousy salesperson. Do we give people what they need or what they want? What do you think?
I was taught many, many years ago the art of salesmanship by a very wise man known as Izzy.
When I was 19 years old I worked as a salesman in a men’s retail clothing store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, New York. I would watch the salesmen in action to learn the selling ropes. Some of the salesmen would pounce on a customer the moment he walked in the store. Other salesmen would allow the customer to browse through the aisles and shelves for a bit and then they would approach. Each had their own style and demeanor. Some salesmen were gray-haired, frumpy veterans. Others were young, stylish and energetic. But one of them stood out to me — Izzy.
Izzy was in his 60’s. He stood 5′ 8″ tall, smoked whenever he got a chance, wore pants that sagged and bagged and ties that had seen better decades. He was everything you would normally think wouldn’t be appropriate in a men’s apparel store. Yet he was the best salesman in the place. Maybe it was the yellow tape measure he always kept draped around his neck like a second necktie.
When Izzy had his eye on a customer he would watch the man eyeball the clothes and maybe pull out a shirt here or a pair of pants there before he approached. Izzy wasn’t being lazy or uninterested. He was sizing up the customer – like a cobra sizing up the mouse that was happily munching away on a nut or berry, totally unaware of the snake laying in wait just inches away.
Izzy would be evaluating and determining the customer’s apparel taste as well as his patience. As long as the customer was looking at the product, Izzy would hang back. Once the customer raised his head Izzy would be the first thing he saw. Brushing back his always un-combed hair and wiping the cigarette ashes fro his dangling tie, Izzy would smile and say, “Need help?”
Izzy was the data analyzer of his time. He knew what the customer would ultimately buy before the customer did. He was a genius at measuring and evaluating from behind his cloud of cigarette smoke. All Izzy had to do was steer the customer in the direction he was already going.
That’s exactly what the data analyzers of today are doing. Nothing new is at work here. They’re just doing it using fancy terms like demographics, psycho-graphics, etc. Except the slick group doing it today are working in the faceless digital world and pirating other people’s information to create their profiles.
If Izzy was around today I bet he would be smoking, or probably vaping, in Silicon Valley and making a fortune in commissions.