Navigating personalisation – how far is too far?

Marketers have the tools to be more personalised than ever in their marketing and comms. It’s getting the level of personalisation right that’s the next challenge.

With the rapidly evolving world of technology, it is easy to be convinced that every development (especially in digital marketing) is groundbreaking and unique – I know that sometimes I am guilty of this! I was reminded of this after an interesting conversation I had which covered topics from ID syncing, to data flows, segmentation and real-time activation. My senior client director remarked that the idea of personalisation is not unique to digital media, rather the biggest difference is in its scale.

For example, when he started off in his career, he worked in direct mail – segmenting the customer base before sending group-relevant communications. Now digital media developments permit us to do this simple concept, just in real time, with greater granularity and with more data about consumers than before.

Nevertheless – just because we have the capability to personalise our comms, does not mean it should be done.

Anyone with a passing interest in marketing knows that there are now a number of apocryphal examples of personalisation overstepping the mark (the Target pregnancy prediction is an excellent example). However, there is a lot that digital marketers can do before we reach ‘too far’.

The key to achieving the balance in personalisation is understanding where on the spectrum a brand wants to – and should – aim for. To judge this, we think about the ‘4 Cs’.

1. Context (the who)

Consider the category the brand wishes to be in. For example, for luxury brands whose business models are centred around projecting exclusivity and personal relationships, personalisation is, arguably, easier. In luxury, there is more time and energy available to marketers to cater for a small, yet highly-engaged consumer base who expect personalisation. On the other hand, for more ‘mass market’ brands the line for personalisation becomes harder to navigate. These brands want to create a joined-up customer experience that serves both the masses and the individual – no mean feat. So, the first question digital marketers must ask is, ‘What are the requirements and expectations of the target audience of this brand?’ For example, does personalisation mean retargeting with products placed in a customer’s basket but not purchased, or a direct call from a contact centre? Understanding what level of personalisation your customers need will move your marketing activity from invasive to helpful.

2. Constraints (what you have to work with)

Ultimately, business is business, and brands must also factor in their constraints, be it time, money or resources available to them. There are numerous exciting technological developments that will help advance (and make more precise) a business’ digital marketing efforts, from technologies that can automate best next action decisioning, to AIs that can deliver messaging and/or change the creative shown within a fraction of a second based on 100s of data signals. However, technology comes at a price Solutions therefore have to be tailored to each business so that they can ensure there is a business case and the skill sets to deliver it.

3. Complexity (how far do you go)

Once the needs of the audience and the resources available have been agreed upon, the next decision is about complexity. For brands starting from nothing, they can achieve some wins from the get go. For example, using a DSP to serve programmatic media, retargeting based on (correctly tagged) site activity, delivering on-site optimisation, and developing segmentation to send more granular email comms. At the other end of the spectrum, a data management platform coupled with a dynamic creative solution allows highly granular bidding and segmentation to be delivered seamlessly. This solution can require input from teams across the organisation and more complex data architecture so is a longer-term development rather than a comparatively simple data audit and tagging exercise.

4. Coherence (personalisation, everywhere)

Being personal isn’t simply an email or an ad; it needs to extend into stores as we, and our customers, continue to integrate our online and offline worlds. Syncing offline and online activity can be hugely challenging but failing to start to address this is a recipe for failure . For example, if an email for an instore offer is sent to consumers, but retail stores are not aware of it (or even cannot be found on the website), it can betray the siloes in an organisation and be hugely frustrating for customers, ultimately leaving them with a negative brand impression. Indeed, in the age of social media, small annoyances can very quickly become big problems. Whilst technology can help to facilitate coherence, the most successful companies have a customer centric approach which considers all their touchpoints with a consumer and ensures the experience is seamlessly integrated.

Getting personalisation right results in tangible benefits. Brands that optimise and personalise their customer experience increase loyalty and revenue, as illustrated by a Forbes 2015 study which proved that 62 per cent of customers buy more and/or more often when met with connected and personalised retail experiences. It may seem that to achieve this businesses have to invest heavily in transformation programmes, but this is not always true.

Marketing has always been about personalisation – getting the right message to the right person. Inherent in that is an understanding of the customer so that we can assess the ‘right’ message. The technology opportunities of the digital economy allow us to go further than ever, the decision that now sits with marketers is not why, but how much they buy into personalisation.

Sophie Wooller, is consultancy lead at iProspect

Further reading on personalisation

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