Why don’t big brands like Woolies & Telstra understand customers?

Further to my last post about Woolies problems, there’s a growing belief in the marketing industry that BIG DATA is distracting marketers from the main game. Just like social media and content marketing have been driven by trend blindness, so too the BIG DATA fashion. Most marketers haven’t a clue about their small data to even contemplate making BIG DATA work for them.

Woolies was so enamored with their BIG DATA, they bought the data analytics company managing it. I have to admit, as an old Seinfeld fan, I cannot get the BIG SALAD out of my mind whenever I hear people use the term BIG DATA.

raking over the BIG DATA in the BIG SALAD…

Given their lack of financial and marketing success, Woolies is obviously yet to reap their BIG DATA benefits. I recently heard an interesting insight from one of their data executives. Apparently they are analysing people’s credit card purchases.

They discovered if you are a male who buys weight loss products for six months, you’re very likely to then purchase “adult services” once you’re looking fit and trim. This brilliant insight will obviously help the adult sex industry. Let’s see, maybe they could advertise their services on low-fat yoghurt labels, or possibly put a neck tag on bunches of kale?

Gotta luv BIG DATA – it’s sooo relevant to the average business.


But let’s not blame the current BIG DATA fashion for the “why don’t they get it?” marketing moments. While speaking at a tourism marketing conference in New Zealand a few years ago, I met Jeanette Kelly. She had spent years working in the hospitality industry. Jeanette presented a wonderful piece of research conducted by the University of Waikato.

What it revealed is a problem all too familiar in the marketing industry – a complete lack of understanding of customers by people responsible for marketing to them.


The accommodation and marketing managers of various hotels, motels, guest houses and the like, were asked what they thought were the most important factors influencing accommodation choices. Here’s what they considered the most important:

  1. Staffing and accommodation service
  2. Room rate
  3. Location
  4. Facilities
  5. Marketing and Sales programmes
  6. Seasonal tourism
  7. Competition from other properties
  8. Supply and demand
  9. Events taking place in the area
  10. The general state of the national economy
  11. The state of the property

The customers were then asked the same question. Guess what the customers listed as the most important factors influencing their accommodation choices?

  1. Cleanliness of the room
  2. Quality of the bath towels and wash cloths
  3. Quality of staff service
  4. Friendliness of staff service
  5. Comfort of mattress and pillow
  6. Quietness of room
  7. Well maintained furnishings
  8. On-premise car parking
  9. Overall facilities
  10. Level of security

As you can see – the marketers hadn’t a clue. In case you’re wondering, ‘room prices’ came 17th on the list of priorities for customers – amazing how small data can help your business.

Telstra is another brand that is out of touch because they ignore their small data. Here’s an earlier example.

More recently though, they have reached new heights – or is that lows? I have an iPhone on a plan, as I was unable to get my Samsung Galaxy to work – here’s why. Twice in the last month I’ve received an email with the subject line: “Malcolm, we have an offer exclusive for you“. I assume they meant to write: “Malcolm, we have an offer exclusively for you” OR “Malcolm, we have an exclusive offer for you“. This grammatical problem typically occurs when you use content marketers instead of copywriters to write your messages.

The offer is for a Samsung Galaxy. Personally I’d like one – as Apple is now the new IBM – do it our way or else. Here’s the email – an ad not a personal message:

telstra 1
Selfies make you feel more in the know – WTF?
telstra 2
I thought I already had a great plan?

telstra 3

Any sane human involved in the mobile phone industry knows the terrible psychological damage caused by trying to switch phone brands, if you use Outlook email on your desktop and want to sync your data. Even worse if you use it via Google Apps. Grown men, champion triathletes, even UFC title holders wither to blubbering wrecks, trying to get a simple transition of their data from Apple to Samsung or vice versa. It can invoke violence on innocent handsets.

I lost all my contacts because I couldn’t sync my phone…

And Telstra know this problem – particularly relating to me – because it’s recorded in their small data on my account file. It must be after the Great Samsung/iPhone Disaster mentioned earlier. So I assume given my ‘exclusive’ offer, they have looked at my account.

It is not unusual to see a total chasm between marketers and their customers. The recent Woolies debacle is typical.


Quite often what customers want and what marketers think they want, are two different things. It’s why you see so much irrelevant content in content marketing. And it’s everywhere. Here’s a recent example of a headline from a Data-Driven Marketing association:

Content might still be king but distribution is queen and she is in charge!

Yes it’s true folks. That ridiculous headline was published online – note the complete lack of reference to customers in the statement. But please don’t despair. The marketing pendulum will swing back to common sense soon, you just need to be patient.


Very, very, very patient…


  1. “Content might still be king but distribution is queen” – typical of the gumf that comes out of marketing associations and people trying to flog tickets to marketing conferences.

    Agree – get good at “small data” before you need to worry about BIG DATA or whatever other buzzwords are floating around at the time

  2. Understanding the customers is really vital, and the eagerness to study the situation and which brand marketing is really effective, will definitely last longer.

    Thanks for this, also please visit or reach me on 0434 925 916 or by email alex@coucoumarketing.com

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