The Communication Breakdown: How A Consumer Case Study Enriched Data Slicing n’ Dicing


In this business there is never a shortage of discussion about the latest trends, data points, behavioral targeting, etc. Every day someone has a different perspective on how to slice and dice data in order to achieve optimal results for clients and advertisers. We all do it, myself included. In fact, I’ve filled a few pages in this publication talking about the various ways you can leverage data to optimize a behavioral targeting campaign. Maybe it’s because spring is right around the corner, or maybe because I’m feeling a little spontaneous, but I’ve decided to take a step back this month and write about something completely unrelated to targeting and optimization.

Recently, decided to survey consumers about what methods of communication they prefer, how they use it and why. Our goal was to really understand the psychology of making contact. We understand very well who our customers are but we don’t really understand motivation all the time. I won’t lie to you and say that we did the survey for the greater benefit of the advertising industry. We did the survey because we wanted to learn more about the people who search on our site so we can develop new ways to slice and dice the data so we can offer advertisers more options for targeting. All kidding aside, the results from the survey were actually quite surprising and I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of that interesting data with you.

We asked nearly 2,400 Internet users two questions regarding how they like to communicate with others, as it relates to several different types of situations. Despite the fact that our culture is becoming more addicted to electronic forms of communication like text messaging and email we were really surprised to find out that when it comes to delivering bad news most people prefer to have discussions face to face.

For example, 82 percent of those surveyed said they prefer to apologize or admit error in person. The numbers are just as high for delivering negative news (you’re fired!) or letting someone know that you are angry with him or her. This makes perfect sense right? A face to face conversation is probably the best way to go if you are going to give someone the boot from their job or let them know they did something to make you mad.

Compare that to the 89 percent of survey respondents who prefer breaking up with someone face to face. This, I have a hard time believing. Generally speaking, breaking up with someone can be a scary task and I am really surprised that many people would prefer to dump someone in person. Even Britney Spears was too chicken to dump K-Fed face to face. He received the news via text. (The fact that the YouTube video of the whole thing has been viewed more than 300,000 times is a topic for another day.) I’ve had my share of breakups in the past and I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I once dumped a junior high boyfriend with a letter and a bag of M&Ms —the early 1990’s equivalent to the text message.

Speaking of old boyfriends, have you ever wondered what an old flame has been up to? What happens when you find out and want to contact them to say “hi” or more importantly, brag about how much bigger/better/faster/richer/cuter you or your job/spouse/car/kids are? A little over 30 percent of the people in our survey said they would prefer to reconnect with an email. This is only slightly more than those who prefer to reconnect by telephone and in-person. Surprisingly, 19 percent of survey respondents actually prefer to send a letter in the mail.

I can agree with this one. Email has become such an integrated part of our daily existence it almost seems natural to prefer making contact in an email, especially if you have been out of touch for a number of years. Just like with ending a relationship, rekindling a relationship can be a scary thing, and it’s much easier to take rejection if it comes in the form of a no-reply versus laughter from the other end of the phone.

Finally, because we did pay for this survey, we had to ask at least one meaningful question that would give us data we could directly tie back to our business. We wanted to know what types of personal information people are most comfortable revealing on the Internet. Once again the answer was not what I expected. Perhaps it is because I am a woman, but I am shocked to see that 71 percent of survey respondents would be comfortable revealing their age. On the other hand, it bodes well for sites like ours that people don’t mind sharing their age. It is always our goal to ensure that consumers find the right person and that they find them quickly. If we included age data with each listing, someone could probably identify the correct person much quicker than if it weren’t included. Despite my commitment to keep this article behavioral targeting free, the wheels in my head are spinning as I try to figure out how we can slice this data into relevant information that can help us give marketers more behavioral targeting options!

The Psychology of Making Contact has given me the opportunity to look at things from a different angle for a change. I am so focused on running the business on a day to day basis, it is nice every once and a while to take a different perspective on the business and have a little fun with it.


  1. Communication is always complicated and a great tool within a business. Even though Whitepages’s internal communication has been flawed with employees closely monitored on their emails, restriction on giving external recommendations (business or otherwise) etc, it is surprising that “communication” seems to be a buzz word there.

  2. […] Web analytics is a discipline that aims to scientifically and objectively observe web site behavior and use that observation to model and predict other behavior. However, there’s something to be said for understanding the “why’s” of behavior as well. Adotas recently posted an article about and their effort to understand the psychology of how and why people prefer to contact companies, and most importantly, what kinds of personal information they are comfortable revealing on the Internet. Is there personal information that you are unwilling to share under any circumstance with a website or is your willingness to share information dependant on your level of trust in that company? Are there incentives that could induce you to share more information? It’s not enough anymore just to know that someone abandoned your lead generation form, the next level of analysis is to understand WHY. […]


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here