Are marketers right to turn their backs on personalisation?


It hasn’t even been 20 years since Tom Cruise showed us what the future of personalised marketing could entail in Minority Report, when a digital billboard addressed his character John Anderton by name to push brands like Guinness and American Express. 

And yet, despite these billboards not yet becoming a reality, it seems marketers are already going off the idea of personalised marketing, according to last week’s report by Gartner. 

Four in five marketers told the report that they would stop investing in personalisation by 2025 due to a lack of return on investment and the perils of customer data management. 

If this comes to pass, a revolt against personalised marketing would upend a trend that has been years in the making. The ability to create one-to-one messaging now extends far beyond programmatic display and direct marketing: the rise of addressable TV and marketing through voice-activated devices. 

What’s behind this apparent unpopularity of personalisation and are marketers right to turn their backs on it as a digital marketing strategy? 

Mark Evans

Marketing director, Direct Line Group

I believe that Gartner’s prediction about the abandonment of personalisation is too binary. It’s perhaps a natural reaction to increasing privacy concerns, GDPR, cookies and data management that personalisation will seem threatened. 

However, the future of insurance is already happening in China, and while the data landscape there is unique, it illustrates the opportunity to take customers on a personalised journey to meet a broader set of their protection needs. As a direct-to-customer brand we know a lot about our customers, and we see a greater prize ahead for the sensible pursuit of personalisation.

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David Coombs

Head of strategic Services, Cheil UK

I don’t believe that marketers will abandon personalisation over the next five years at all. In fact I think it will be quite the opposite. There have been a number of robust research studies over the past couple of years highlighting the power of personalisation. Brands offering personalised products, services or experiences grow two to three times faster than those that don’t (Boston Consulting Group) and personalisation delivers 10-20% efficiencies while delivering 10-30% uplift in revenue and retention (McKinsey), to quote a couple.

Kevin Joyner

Director of planning and insight, Croud

Let us not confuse examples of user-generated content as personalisation gone wrong. Indeed, conventional personalisation will decline. It’s threatened by users’ offence at creepy or harassing ads, and by the now mainstream grasp of individual data protection rights. Data legislation and relentless updates to Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari are degrading the function of third party cookies, and therefore the function of conventional personalisation. But personalisation will evolve. We’ll move on to different, better approaches. First party data and AI will unite marketing with products and services, and will enable more personalised relationships between (fewer) brands and their loyal customers.

Ivan Mazour

Chief executive and founder, Ometria

Personalisation as a PR buzz-building exercise (think names on bottle labels or posing beside Gary Lineker) has the potential to quickly become tired and overused. Worse, it misrepresents the true power of personalisation – a smart way to build strong relationships with customers. Personalisation means genuinely understanding the customer and making sure every communication is relevant, and as non-interruptive as possible – for example, if a customer requires a product replenishment.

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When it works well, personalisation should not be noticeable at all, aside from a feeling that a brand ‘gets’ you. A brand that can save its customers time by making the right recommendations at the right time will always outdo the brand that eats into our busy schedules with stunts or ‘batch and blast’ communications.

Simon Pont

Co-Founder, Big Blue

The death of personalisation feels like a sweeping over-exaggeration that misses the real problem. Because who wants to be treated the same as everyone else? Who believes that one generic message will carry the same weight, irrespective of who hears it? Isn’t the very point of ‘targeting’ that messages are ‘fit for purpose’, tailored to their audience, and amplified further if they reach that audience ‘at the right time’? 

Personalisation, in theory, will always make complete sense. However, what needs to die pretty quickly is bad personalisation; personalisation poorly practised. Where a clunky piece of AI, built on a nothing-close-to-smart-enough-yet algorithm, jumps on my data trail and serves up an intrusive, assumptive and over-persistent message, that makes me feel like I’m being followed home in the dark. 

Nick Miller

Senior strategist, Armadillo

We’re finding brands increasingly coming to us telling us they need to do more personalisation. Our push back is always ‘why’ and ‘how’? There needs to be a positive value exchange to the customer handing over their valuable data, and it’s not just about slapping someone’s name on the comms they receive, it’s about being ‘relevant’. You can use that data to tailor the experience they receive, the content they view, the channels they receive your messaging through. Personalising the customer experience can deliver a positive ROI when done in the right way and for the right reasons. 

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