Personalization is Tricky!

Tuesday 29th, March 2016

Digital Marketing Mistake – Not Getting Personalization Right

Personalization in marketing is almost like walking on a digital tight rope. You don’t personalize and your customers feel alienated. One step too far and they say it is an invasion of privacy!

Personalization in marketing is all about finding out (through data) about the customer, and based on this information, engaging with him in a meaningful way. The simplest example would be sending him emails that are addressed to him individually – by name.

Amazon takes personalization to a whole different level – a person goes online and buys something on Amazon.com. The next time he signs in, he sees a homepage on Amazon that has been personalized to suit his tastes. Apart from the many things that they would draw your attention to, there is a list of things under “related to items you have viewed” or “based on your browsing history”. And when you look at something specific like, for instance a Panasonic Hair drier, Amazon makes recommendations to you – “people who looked at this, also looked at” or “what other items do customers buy after viewing this item?”

Beacons and location-based marketing is another way marketing gets up close and personal.

The ubiquitous mobile phone makes this possible – you can actually tell where a customer is. And then, take it further by sending him marketing messages that are relevant to him and the place where he is. Geo-fencing is a form of location-based marketing where a section on a map is chosen as the target area and the people within that are sent offers, push notifications and other kinds of communication.

Beacons send small packets of information, from distances of between two inches to about 50 meters depending on the environment. When a smartphone comes into range, the beacon’s signal triggers content from either a local database or cloud-based storage. The smartphone user will then see a notification on their home screen saying a discount, reward incentive or contextual suggestion is near by – even if the phone is locked. Beacons are gaining a lot of traction with retailers or brands because it gives them the opportunity to communicate directly with shoppers not just at a store level but in an aisle or even at a fixture.

When done right, customers are happy with the kind of convenience that this brings to them – as location-based marketing addresses issues that they are concerned about right at that minute. But it is so easy to make a mistake and lose a customer – just like that! Because crossing the line even a little bit becomes a little too much for most people.

Personalization and personalized customer experiences can be the key differentiators in today’s marketing playfield. There is so much data about customers that is available, that can be used to do this. Data should be the basis on which strategy and customer engagement should be built.  Whether it is a customer experience at a brick and mortar store, or content that is tailored to suit a customer’s taste, personalization can make all the difference. Then email won’t be just spam (although the email was addressed to him by name) but relevant engaging content – and banners on websites will be a reflection of products that a customer is truly interested in.

But one should be careful. One wrong step and it could look like a user is being stalked online – and that could just about sabotage everything!

A good example is what happened with Target – Target was tracking the purchases of its customers and decided to co-relate a customer’s pregnancy stage based on her purchases! That quickly slipped into the realm of all kinds of wrong. Every customer at Target has a Guest ID number that is tied to their credit card, name, or email address. This stores all kinds of information about them – a list of things they had bought, their demographics, etc.  They sifted and analyzed all this data about their customers and were able to track the stages of pregnancy of a certain group of women (who were pregnant!) Based on this, they sent promotional literature – coupons, etc. for products that would be relevant to them at a particular time!

This made an angry father apparently storm into a Target store demanding to know why they were sending his high school daughter promotional literature about diapers!

Long story short – it just creeped everyone out. They hastily changed their strategy and were back!

As marketers and businesses trying to engage with and connect with customers, it is very important to remember that there are boundaries that need to be strictly adhered to.

People would welcome things like automatic discounts at checkout for loyalty points or coupons. They would love real time promos and offers and even appreciate suggestions for further purchases. But if a retailer starts to tell a customer that he is going way beyond his budget or if was buying something that was outside his diet restrictions, or if a store person called a customer by name as he enters a store (oooo way too much!) – That can just put people off!

It is true that customers like the personal touch and even expect it. But it is a fine line between warmly personal and downright creepy. And not balancing the personalization game right, would be a huge digital marketing mistake that you would make!

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