Personalisation: A Two Way Conversation

Pamela Bath

coffeehouseCustomers will be loyal to you only if they trust you, and they will only trust you if they feel they have some control in the relationship. So a key element of an effective personalisation strategy is to give your customers a say – a sense of influence or a sense of control.

What creates aversion for consumers is being continually spammed by companies who have abused initial trust – companies who think the ‘mud on the wall’ approach is good marketing. The daily email can either be good targeting or simple hounding.

The most successful personalisation campaigns actually ask their customers how and when they want to be contacted, and with what information. Brands may be terrified of moving away from contacting their customers every single day, but actually giving them the option of how often they’d like to be contacted should ultimately increase engagement levels; it’s just a matter of brands being prepared to relinquish that control so that it becomes a two-way relationship.

Ultimately, exchanges become transactions and that translates as profit; because if personalisation is truly working – if brands are asking the right questions and evaluating their customers’ behaviour patterns accurately – that knowledge can predict what their customers will do in the future and ensure they can meet these needs.

Brands that get personalisation right

But even today, there isn’t a brand that can truly say they are personalising their offering at every single touch point because the consistency just isn’t there yet. However, we are beginning to see some fantastic exercises in personalisation; personalised gifts, for instance, are proven to hit the bottom line in a major way.

The Book of Everyone, which personalises children’s storybooks with their names and makes the whole story about them, is an extremely successful model; we’ve had the technology to do this for years and it’s such a simple idea, but it genuinely works because they recognise the value of creating something bespoke.

At another end of the spectrum, Pizza Express vouchers work brilliantly; they get customers’ names right, give them free bubbly on their birthday and hit them with vouchers at the right time of the week when they may be planning to go for dinner with friends. It doesn’t need to be personalised to food preferences or anything else beyond that, because it accurately predicts and fulfils a need.

Easyjet ran a great email campaign last year, when they contacted each of their customers to tell them exactly how many miles they’d flown with the airline in their lifetime. It delighted their customers because they’d made the effort to do something that wasn’t a hard sell, it was just fun; and it made people feel warm and engaged. After all, it’s better to tell your customers the benefits of their custom rather than their degree of spend. Showing your customers you care, without it being associated with a heavy sales message, is all too rare in email communications.

The reason these campaigns are memorable is because brands are showing customers that they listen – that they still promote the brand benefits and product proposition but in a way that is personal to that customer. But markets and consumers change at a rapid pace, so the real challenge is for brands to constantly develop, review their strategies, perfect their offering and deliver personalisation in a consistent way across every channel.

Biggest barriers to personalisation

One of the biggest barriers to personalisation is that brands rely too heavily on a ‘one size fits all’ approach. At least half the companies I engage with as a consumer haven’t even got the basics right, and most of the emails I get don’t even acknowledge my name. How many brands are passing their latest customer intelligence to their digital media buyers to ensure the correct digital ads are being presented in a personalised and relevant way? Not enough.

As a consumer, I would love to see more brands using their communications plans to simply thank their best customers, rather than bombarding them with emails saying ‘You haven’t bought anything for ages, here’s some money off your next purchase’. This doesn’t happen enough because too many brands tend to ignore their best customers and focus entirely on acquiring new ones.

To that end, greed is one of the biggest obstacles to personalisation; companies think they’re doing something personal by emailing their customers to say ‘Happy Christmas’, but there’s always an offer or sales message associated with it. We hardly ever see emails that say ‘We’re not trying to sell you anything; we just want to thank you for your custom over X amount of years.’

If you don’t invest in learning enough about your customers, you’re already left behind. Personalisation represents a tremendous opportunity for marketers, and it’s long overdue; but our focus needs to switch from quantity to quality, and brands need to be bolder and braver in asking for that information; it could lead to a much more enriching, relevant and fruitful experience for both parties.

For more personalisation tips and advice, download our whitepaper

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