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I live in the New York City area, and among baseball fans of a certain age, there is a touchstone event that they remember: New York Yankees baseball player Thurman Munson dying in a plane crash during the baseball season in 1979. My friend Charles related to me that he was recently among a group of Yankee fans who, each in turn, were asked that question: “Where were you when Thurman Munson died?”

Each gave their answer, until it was Charles’ turn. He said that he vividly remembered where he was: “I was right here. Who the hell is Thurman Munson?”

That’s the problem with touchstones. They are quite powerful among those who share them. But they are puzzling to anyone outside that circle. It is striking how easy it is to assume that your touchstone also resonates with others, and it is those assumptions that are killers in marketing.

Some of you know that last year, my wife and I sold our house and moved to an apartment in a large city. We also sold our cars. Since then, we notice a constant barrage of new car commercials that do not at all resonate with us anymore. We are especially amused at the raft of ads showing new cars with big red bows on them, because giving your spouse a new car seems to be a touchstone for a significant part of the population.

In the past, we’ve had to resign ourselves to guessing what ideas might pique our customers’ interests. We had to take a shot at what might work. But we now have many ways to learn more about what customers want:

  • Digital ad data around which topics your clients engage with
  • Social data that shows their sentiment around certain topics
  • Web analytics data around what content they view on your site
  • A/B testing data that shows which messages they prefer

And there is plenty where that came from — more data online and offline. The question is whether you are using it. What data are you collecting? What messages are you testing? How do you know what is working? Are you still guessing the way everyone once did, or have you stepped up to become data-driven?

You can keep guessing your touchstones. Or you can use your data to look like a customer genius. It’s up to you.

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, Revealed Context, and SoloSegment. Mike is the author of three books on digital marketing and is an instructor at Rutgers Business School. He is a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO, a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research, and a Certified Speaking Professional.

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