Brand vs Customer: who is responsible for personalisation?

Senior Data Planner

Caitlin Hubbard

Senior Data Planner

Posted: 11 August 2017

Our ultimate achievement, as marketers, is to speak to our customers at a 1:1 level. And, of course, this makes total sense; when we speak to our customers on a 1:1 level, it is perceived we are no longer selling them something, but helping them. In brief, customers don’t perceive relevant marketing as marketing when there is a clear value exchange. What does that mean for us? Well, that we’ll keep engagement high and, in turn, convert more.

This is also backed by research. Moth (2014) found that the top two reasons consumers unsubscribe from emails is because it’s either not relevant or too frequent. So, logically, (and I know this is something you’ve all heard) this means we need to be sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel.

Okay – that’s all great. But how? There seems to be a commonly held belief that the brand should shoulder the responsibility for this mammoth task. We are faced with two ways in which to make our communications more personal – either entrusting the consumer to tell us, or utilising our knowledge of the customer and their data.

What role can the customer play?

This isn’t passing the buck - asking consumers what they want to receive and putting them in the driving seat has shown that engagement can increase.

“This isn't lazy marketing; it's understanding that, sometimes, it's just worth asking.”

The way to do this is via either a Preference Centre or offering an 'opt-down' function. A preference centre gives the ability for consumers to choose what they want to receive – normally done topically, whilst an 'opt-down' function means consumers can choose when they want to stop receiving communications for an interim period. When men's retailer Bonobos implemented an opt-down function they found that their unsubscribes decreased by 25%.

As I said before, this isn't lazy marketing. This is understanding that sometimes it’s just worth asking. When customers first join or sign up to a brand, their interest is at a high and we should be taking advantage of that to improve their customer experience.

But before we sit back and put our feet up, there’s several areas in which giving the power to the consumer can just fail.

Whilst engagement may be high upon sign up, it tends to level-off over time. So when you’re giving a customer the option at the beginning to choose what they want, they may not know. That’s essentially like asking a person to tell you what aspects of you they like and dislike when they’ve met you 5 minutes earlier. Frankly, the answer will be: 'I don’t know'.

We also need to consider the practicality. What is the likelihood of customers keeping a Preference Centre updated? It is most likely the ones that do are your very engaged audience anyway – is there a point in asking them to tailor their communications?

So what's another way?

Does a customer-in-control approach limit what we can do as marketers? This is, after all, about their experience. Customers have an expectation that brands hold a lot of data on them, and that they can utilise it to give them relevant communications. By utilising transactional, personal and digital engagement data, we can offer a surprise and delight element. Think about the last piece of communication you received which was tailored to you without you asking. Didn’t it make you feel a bit warm inside?

There are still some issues with relying totally on data. For starters, once you’ve received data and utilised it, the information may then be dated or lack relevancy. Think of those display adverts you’ve seen which show you the trousers you have already decided you don’t like. It’s not charming anymore, it's just annoying.

So, who is responsible for making things personal?

Arguably, here, the answer is both. Perhaps, we marketers and consumers need to enter a more balanced relationship to get things personal and relevant.

The promises between the two could be as follows: 'As marketers, we promise to utilise your data where possible. We promise to ensure there’s a layer of sophisticated research and data mining to ensure we’re serving you the right content. We promise to use our brains.'

'You, as consumers, can promise to keep us informed if your preferences, wants or needs differ to perhaps what your habitual behaviors may convey. We offer you the means to tell us so that we can adapt, rather than have you go off us completely.'

Caitlin Hubbard
Senior Data Planner

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