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Target uses big data to target women entering their second trimester

I’m a geek. I love big data and ferreting out patterns. Nothing fascinates me more than the burgeoning field of neuromarketing.

Like most marketing geeks, I read the New York Times article about Target using statistics to predict when women were entering their second trimester in awe of the sheer marketing brilliance. By detecting small changes in women’s purchasing behavior and a few ‘trigger’ items such as a large quantity of unscented lotion, Target is able to discern when a woman is entering in her second trimester.

This is a critical inflection point because becoming a mom fundamentally changes women’s shopping behavior. Target wisely figured if they could become the shopping destination of choice for women going through this transition, that they could gain more wallet share by becoming the one-stop shopping destination for new moms. What is even more amazing is the accuracy with which Target was able to spot these women—even going so far as to know when a teenage girl was expecting well before her own father.

As luck would have it, my younger sister is in the process of starting her family. Anyone who knows me knows that absolutely cannot keep a secret. Therefore, it was a huge test of my willpower to not let her know that she was taking part in my own experiment—a validation of the efficacy of the Target second trimester targeting.

It was shocking how perfectly it worked. Two weeks into her second trimester, I get a call that she’s heading to Target to register. I can’t help but feel like I’ve had some part in this coming to pass. I am smug in my knowledge that marketing is, in fact, a real science.

I received notification of her registry while I was preparing for a presentation at a retail event. I immediately text her:

Me (beaming with smug marketing brilliance): Target got you!

Sister (confused as to what I’m on about): Huh?

Me (in uber-nerdy mode): Target has a campaign to identify when women are entering their second trimester. They use behavioral cues and then start ‘targeting ‘ you. They got you!

Sister (a child psychologist who has kids to see): Yep. That’s me.

Me (smugness now with no place to go): J

Sister (in the longest text I’ve seen from her): If you are working with them, tell them to put their pack and plays on the ground and have strollers that you can actually push. Bolting these items to the second shelf where you can’t see or play with them is crap!

Me (suddenly not so proud of the brilliance of my profession and eager to change the subject): Can’t wait to go shopping for the baby! :) ))))

So How Can we Get it So Right and Still Screw It Up?

The move to big data and neuromarketing takes us to more sophisticated level yet we still struggle with the basics. We can predict with an amazing degree of accuracy who we should target, what messages they should receive via which channel at which time. We can micro segment in ways that were unfathomable just five years ago. That means that we should be able to create customer experiences that are as tailored as our targeting. However, frequently it is the basics that cause us problems.

Surely, someone had a great reason for bolting strollers and play cribs to the second shelf. However, anyone who had watched the expectant mothers in the aisle would have seen the frustration with this situation. New moms want to touch and feel and personally certify anything that is going to come in close contact with their precious cargo. I went and watched for only a few moments and saw several women with new baby bumps reaching and straining to try and get a better look at these items.

What Can Retailers Do To Avoid Creating These Situations?

When I consult with retailers, the very first thing I do is chart the user journey as it is today with the desired outcome. Typically, there will be two or three variations in a multi-channel approach. Then I’ll identify crucial touch points in the journey—those places that can either make the user happily continue forward or perhaps to abandon their journey. Finally, I take key stakeholders on an empathy field trip. I’m a religious practitioner of design thinking. Many people think that the power of this methodology is in the ideation. However, it is truly in the empathy work. I’ve had senior executives tell me, “I learned more about how my store operates in four hours than I would have ever seen from charts and tables.”


  1. Use big data and neuromarketing, but validate it in practice. Don’t let all that brilliance go to waste when user frustration can easily be avoided.
  2. Create a user journey chart to show the customer’s path from targeting to purchase and brand affinity with key milestones and inflection points.
  3. Schedule an empathy field trip to go out and observe how your vision is translated into practice. It is typically useful to have an impartial party lead these for a fresh point of view.
  4. Continue to validate and make tweaks as you get more data and feedback.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Sheridan Orr
Sheridan Orr is considered the Ralph Nader of the customer experience. She is a noted speaker and author as well as the managing partner of The Interrobang! Agency, a consulting firm focused on crafting customer experiences. Her primary area of expertise is consumer behavior in a connected world. She has over a decade of experience working with some of the world's most recognizable brands. When she's not waxing poetic about the modern, connected customer, she's an avid skier and atomic soccer mom.


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