09 Personalising


Personalized marketing: myths and realities

Albert Garcia Pujades

What stands out in marketing is your abilty to create new concepts, practices and techniques. Your ability is infinite. Some of those concepts and techniques are basic; they form part of the essential corpus of marketing and will always prevail (e.g. positioning). Others come and go over time. Some are in the spotlight as the latest thing (e.g. inbound marketing, growth hacking). Others transform and metamorphose over time.

Some are still there after a long time. With the feeling that they’ve never really taken off, probably because the gap between theory and practice is huge. I’m referring specifically to personalized marketing.

In 1996 the book “The One to One Future” was published[1] a book that attempted to cast light on the future of marketing, communication and commerce. For many it was the book of the decade that revolutionized marketing in the 1990s.

It proposed a major change in the “market share” and “customer quota” paradigm. The proposal was (is) that every person should be treated in a personalized way on the basis of their tastes and preferences. Learning to cooperate with the customer to build loyalty and opportunities for future profit. They called this concept “Marketing 1×1″ or “Personalized/Individualized Marketing.

The key to building a lasting relationship with the customers of today is to establish a dialog that allows you to get to know them and to learn from each of them. This is what local traders have always done. The shopkeeper who’s known you for years, calls you by your name and knows what you like and don’t like. So, to take that same treatment to thousands or even millions of people, with that same intelligence and resulting experience, we need a form of communication that is relevant to the customer (not necessarily the brand) and scrupulously personalized.

Mass communication is not the approach. Every current and potential customer has different needs and for that reason it is almost impossible to write a single message that is attractive to all of them. The key is not in personalizing the message; today that can be done quite easily using digital media. First of all you need to know to your customers and their different characteristics and needs. If each one of them is different, each of your messages needs to be different too.

[1] “The One to One Future” by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers

How to personalize?

  • Identify the customer, listen to them constantly
  • Generate suitable interaction in the whole experience with the customer, map it and take the customer journey
  • Constantly learn from the customer. Not as an empty promise, but as an essential business strategy. This involves knowing with what, how, when and through where we will be able to adjust our product/service to ensure that our customer is happy and continues to buy from and recommend us
  • To have the necessary tools

There is currently enough available technology to do it:

  • Centralized database. The database is the support basis for personalizing the content. It contains the information about the users, together with the record of their past behaviour and interactions.
  • Capture the behavior: easy data capture through a landing page, web forms, social sign in for registering with social profiles, QR codes for offline events, etc. through databases; progressive profiling techniques that don’t annoy the user, dynamic content gamification, etc. techniques
  • email marketing: platforms for sending emails (Mailchimp, Mailrelay, etc.); email behavioral tracking;
  • Marketing automation: actions activated by events or behaviors (e.g. leaving shopping basket before finishing); lead scoring tools; analytics tools… and obviously, the connection with the CRM
  • Multichannel communication: Share to social media; Social sign in; design responsive; geolocation, etc.
  • And the content marketing tools

If we refer to personalizing within the framework of the relationship cycle with the customer, they respond better to a moment in the relationship in which we already have a certain amount of historical information; therefore, in strategies for gaining loyalty, rather than in attraction strategies. Another of the reasons personalizing is not a great success is that unfortunately efforts usually concentrate on attracting more customers, rather than on trying build loyalty among them and making them grow. Forgetting that it is much more difficult to attract than to build loyalty.

Nevertheless, it is also used to attract new customers, although much less. Personalizing requires categorizing the customer and that is not the priority of attraction, when they are being sought. In attracting new customers, we use self-diagnoses (test) with which to give a real-time recommendation (Foxize test).

Test foxize

Or we use personalizing as yet another well-known resource for sales promotion campaigns, with good results, rather than true personalized marketing.

Coca cola Nutella

The question is obligatory. With such promise, why has it not been used more?

Rather than answering, I prefer to illustrate my reply with a couple of real-life examples. from the same brand. This is an extremely simple example of personalizing: something as easy as congratulating me on my birthday. However, the simple is not so obvious.

personalizacion-el-corte-ingles personalizacion-el-corte-ingles2

In the example on the left there is absolutely no emotional connection. In the one on the right, they didn’t even get my title right (Mrs instead of Mr). No comment!

I repeat the question: Why has personalization not been used more in marketing? The simple answer is that the requirements for “personalized marketing” are much greater than they seem at first. As is explained in detail in Reasons Why Personalized Marketing Still Isn’t Accurate. The reasons why personalizing is not taking off are quite obvious. To sum up:

  • The data quality is poor
  • The data are not integrated
  • Dependence on inherited (rigid and costly) systems
  • Too much faith put into incorrect data
  • The analytical ability is still too basic
  • Too much trust in the “miracles of technology”
  • Thinking that personalizing is a marketing problem, when it is in fact a challenge for the whole company

I don’t know if it’s still too soon or not. I don’t believe it’s a problem of technology, but rather the combination of management (management decisions, organizational design and corporate culture), people (training and attitude), processes and technology. Personalizing is synonymous with marketing. Customers expect personalized experiences over the lifetime of their relationship with a company. It is the just recognition of a relationship over time, with more or less loyalty. Only by combining all the efforts can you get to know the customer’s wishes and create suitable experiences for them.

Otherwise the years will continue to pass by and the marketing managers will continue to be asked about the main trends and, as can be seen in Teradata 2015 Global Data-Driven Marketing Survey, most will continue to rely on personalizing as key feature in the development of marketing. However, as we already know, it’s one thing to talk the talk and another to walk the walk.

Albert Garcia Pujades

Albert Garcia Pujades

Professor of the Master in Direct and Digital Marketing, UPF Barcelona School of Management


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