I want to agree with your analysis of the problems of one-to-one marketing overall, but at the same time to disagree with your analysis of the Ritz-Carleton Hotel.
Certainly you are correct that it is too costly and too risky in the main to attempt to predict your client's wishes based on past performance. Anyone who has ever belonged to a record club (do they still call them that?) knows that it is quite necessary to refuse large numbers of undesired records if you have any individual tastes at all, but that it would not be possible for the club to guess what recordings you would like to receive. The fact that I have purchased five albums by five different artists may suggest absolutely nothing about what I will buy next, and any attempt to predict such a thing is foolish. Even if I've purchased the last five albums of the same artist doesn't mean I'll want the next one--I may have decided that my tastes or his songs have changed, such that my interests now lie elsewhere. I dare say that I would have difficulty predicting what my wife will buy next, and would not dare to guess the next choices of the best of my friends--how am I to guess the needs and desires of people known to me only through past business dealings? And the more of them there are, the more difficult it is for me to know.
However, in the Ritz-Carleton, there is something very different going on. Consider this: one office services company recently marketed itself as "your office" wherever you are. The idea was that they could produce reports, provide research, do anything for you that your office staff could do, wherever you were. But they really can't. I can't say to them, "I need something like what we did last month", or "Check the color scheme on that other project"--they don't know me or my work. At the Ritz-Carleton, they don't want you to feel like you're staying in a hotel; they are trying to create the illusion that the hotel staff is your personal staff--your butlers, maids, valets, what-have-you. You spend a lot of money to stay there, and while you are there, these people work for you, and create the illusion that they work for you alone, ready with what you want before you ask, because they care about you and know you. Most people will not react badly to such treatment; they will be flattered--just as I am flattered when a cashier remembers that I prefer doubled paper bags when I reach the checkout. Certainly if I have some reason to want plastic, I'll ask for it; but I'll still be pleased that they remembered. If a restaurant remembers that I sit in non-smoking, or a gas station knows that I take regular gas, that's a plus. The fact that the clerks at the video store don't need to see my membership card because they know who I am, that those in the electronics store can pull up my name on the computer without asking me, that the pharmacist knows something of my medical condition and the medical history in my family, make me more comfortable when I do business in those places. Most people prefer a doctor who already knows their past medical problems. For that matter, most people prefer a barber or stylist who already knows how they like their hair done. I would rather get answers to my computer problems from the guy who worked on it before--he knows what's inside my system better than I do. If we want something different, we feel comfortable enough to say so; otherwise, we save a lot of time and aggravation because we are already known to these people, and they have some idea of how to please us. There is a lot to be said for one-to-one relationships in the business world.
Not, of course, on the Internet. This is one of those places where the sheer volume of potential business combined with the technological separation between us make such one-on-one relationships nearly impossible. Even those whom I have met through Internet communications--message systems, news groups, chat rooms--are in a real sense strangers to me. I correspond with several strangers, and never feel that I know them well enough to call them friends. It's hard enough getting to know people with whom you have frequent and direct contact; knowing people strictly through electronic messages is far more so.
I've written more than I intended; feel free to post and/or comment on any of this, or not, as you prefer.
--M. J. Young
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