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The Importance of Recognition

Everyone likes to hear the sound of his or her own name. That is one way that the Old Corner Grocers used to keep their customers:  “Hello Mrs. Pierce, how is your daughter doing, now that she’s home from school?”  That is a very powerful sentence. The grocer is aiming at keeping Mrs. Pierce coming back to him for groceries for a lifetime. How does he know this stuff?  Because Mrs. Pierce has told him, he remembers it, and is able to call this information up in his head, and use it when she walks into his store.

So how can you keep customers coming back to your web site for a lifetime? How can you use that powerful psychological tool, recognition?  Amazon showed us the way: “Welcome back Arthur”. We have all seen this phrase and recognize it right away. It is as familiar as “You’ve got mail” which they made into a Hollywood movie.

But knowing only someone’s first name rings a little hollow in today’s fast moving Internet world. You have to know a lot more than that. American Airlines remembers my frequent flier number so they can tell me how many miles I have earned without my having to enter the number. Amazon remembers my address and my credit card number. They also have been pretty good at remembering the books that I have ordered, and suggesting other titles that I might like. I have bought three books from them that were their idea, not mine. I have been happy with all three. The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition made a mess of things for a couple of years. They have a login system that is case sensitive. Until recently, it never remembered anything. I kept forgetting what my ID and passwords were.  I found the Journal almost useless to me. Recently, they have started remembering who I am when I log on. Now, I don’t have to enter anything. I just start reading. How did they do it?

The answer, of course, is cookies. If you right click with your mouse on the Start button on your Windows screen, you will bring up your Windows Explorer. Using it, go to the Windows directory. Inside it you will see a Cookies directory. There you will find twenty or more entries from anyuser@aa[1] to anyuser@yahoo[2]. Inside each of these entries you will find a group of numbers such as These are numbers of no meaning to you, or to any hacker who might peek into your computer. They are of interest only to the software at the company that put them there, such as the Wall Street Journal or Yahoo. Every time you log on to a site like these that use cookies, their software will immediately hunt for their own cookie in your Windows directory. Armed with this number, the software will go to a lookup table in the memory of their server, and discover that the computer they are dealing with belongs to Arthur Middleton Hughes. All of this is done in a fraction of a second.

Then, if they are clever, they will use this information to recognize you by name. They will use the information that you have provided to them in previous visits to give you the kind of service you want: one click ordering, or your preferred content on their web page. If they are good at it, they will be bringing back the warm reception and recognition you got from the Old Corner Grocer.

So since they are so helpful, everyone is using cookies, right?  Wrong! When I lecture at the National Center for Database Marketing or the Direct Marketing to Business conferences, I always ask my audience by a show of hands, “How many are using cookies?”  I get two or three hands out of a hundred. Why not?  There seem to be several reasons.

  • Privacy. The Privacy Nuts are at it again. “Cookies are an invasion of personal privacy”, they maintain. No company wants to do that. But there are simple ways around that. Many web sites ask, “Do you want us to remember your ID number and password?” When they ask that, they are really getting your permission to use a cookie. Is the Wall Street Journal invading my personal privacy by letting me come on to their web site every day to get the news without entering a complicated case-sensitive ID and password?  Of course not.
  • Ignorance. Many marketers do not yet understand the technology sufficiently to insist that their programmers use cookie technology to achieve customer recognition and helpfulness. Perhaps this article will straighten them out. Cookies are essentially free. They cost you, and the using company absolutely nothing, once a few lines of code are written in the web site software.
  • Jurisdiction. Believe it or not, many web sites are run by IT and not by marketing! The web sites are considered technology, not marketing. What a mistake! The web is the greatest marketing vehicle ever invented. If your web site is not maintained by your marketing staff, fight to get the jurisdiction changed, or you will miss out on your most important channel to your customers in the years to come.

Cookies, however, are only the first step. To use the web properly for recognition, you need to recognize your best customers with an extranet. The first step is to find out who your Gold customers are. Many marketers have not yet done this analysis, but it is comparatively simple to do. Once you know who these valuable customers are, give them a personal PIN. Then when they come on the web site using that PIN, you can make their whole web experience with you a very personal one.

Dell has more than 30,000 premier pages for their best customers. In many cases they have negotiated volume prices for these Gold customers. These prices show up when they use their PIN. Dell also uses the premier pages to sent regular reports back to their customer’s purchasing offices telling them what their employees have spent on computers. Soon all business to business sites, like Staples and Office Depot will be doing that.  And, once the Gold customer has used his PIN for the first time, he won’t need to use it again. The web site will use cookies to remember who he is, and what his PIN is.

Now is the time to get with it and start using cookies to recognize your customers and keep them coming back for a lifetime.

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About Arthur

Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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