The rise of personalisation in online marketing

For several years now, personalisation has been heralded as the next big thing for marketers. A report from Forrester predicted that companies who fully invest in modern personalisation will outsell their competitors by 20%. But most brands are still working out how to get there – and it’s a complex journey. Effective personalisation requires a thorough approach to data, from collection to implementation, to create a complete picture of the customer, and knowing how to use that to provide them with real value – without freaking them out.

So what exactly is personalisation? Gone are the days when you could simply rely on placeholder text to do the job for you – “Dear [NAME]” at the start of an email will no longer cut it. Personalisation, at its heart, means a thorough understanding of a customer’s individual needs and behaviours, and meeting those needs in a way that suits them. It’s the content they need, at the time they need it, delivered where and how they want it.

There appears to be something of a disconnect in this area: 91% of marketers say they’re prioritising personalisation, but only 31% of consumers see a consistent personalised experience from brands. What’s going wrong? For starters, marketers are falling into the trap of segmenting consumers into broad categories using basic demographics. This can backfire pretty badly – I had an email a few years ago from Fluid London with the subject header claiming it was for “Men Only” because it was about sport. I tweeted them to query it and they told me I couldn’t take a joke. Needless to say, I unsubscribed immediately and haven’t been back to their website since – and I still remember it, and am still telling people about my negative experience. If they had been analysing my preferences properly, they would have seen I was a huge rugby fan and avoided the whole sorry mess. I’m not alone in being upset by this kind of behaviour – 81% of consumers say a negative personalisation experience impacts their perception of the brand.

Throw out your old notion of demographics – they won’t help you. We’ve always known not all women were the same, and that not all 30 year-olds were the same, but for a long time we had no choice but to play the numbers and make big assumptions: more men like watching sport than women, we’ll target our sports issue at men. Now, though, we have access to so much more data about our customers that we can segment our audience by psychographics – their interests and behaviours, the things that really matter to them; things that can unite a 60-year-old woman and a 14-year-old boy. (Like my mother-in-law and my nephew uniting over their shared love of Bruce Springsteen. No, I can’t explain it either.)

The second issue holding marketers back is not having the right strategy in place for their data – not knowing what to collect, and not knowing what to do with it once they’ve got it. Gathering data can sometimes be too easy; if you didn’t begin with clear objectives, you might end up with so much information it will be hard to work out what you actually need, never mind start to use it. Knowing things about your customers is all very well, but it isn’t useful without real intelligence about the customer’s needs.

We also need to be careful about how we use the information we gather to avoid making customers feel uncomfortable. 77% of UK consumers say it’s really important for them to be in control of their personal data. Demonstrating too deep an understanding of a customer can be concerning – not to mention creepy. No one wants a Minority Report situation where the billboards call out to them by name.

There are certainly hurdles to be overcome, but the rewards are worth the effort. 35% of UK consumers are willing to spend more (up to 20% more, in fact) for personalised products and services. 59% of shoppers who have experienced personalised marketing say it has had a noticeable influence on their purchasing. Taking the time to learn about who your customer is, what they care about and what they need is a vital investment for your business. Furthermore, if you have a full understanding of your customer as an individual, you can tailor their experience with your brand, on any channel, to suit them. And then, you’ve nailed it.


Leapfrogg’s MD, Rosie Freshwater, will be speaking about how to deliver a perfect personalised customer experience using data and insight in this years’ SheerB2B Ecommerce Conference.

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