Personalisation: Is it cool, or is it just creepy?

In Customer Engagement, Featured on App by Jeremy Coward

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Is personalisation really what customers want?

Anyone who’s worked in marketing for a reasonable amount of time has heard of the Target debacle and their overly successful attempts to identify who in their database was expecting a child. The story goes that Target identified one customer demographic that it felt needed more attention: pregnant women. It took it upon itself to harvest huge amounts of data from customers, in order to determine which of them were most likely to be pregnant. Those selected were then targeted with offers for pregnancy- and baby-related products. The level of accuracy that Target achieved was truly scary – one 14 year-old girl’s family only learned of her pregnancy when Target began sending her pregnancy-related emails.

Regardless of how accurate it was, Target’s campaign was incredibly creepy, and put off many of their customers. However, similar campaigns have been phenomenally successful. It often comes down to how subtle companies are, and whether they truly have the best interests of their customers at heart.

Netflix are an appropriate example. They achieve ‘cool’ personalisation by keeping things simple, suggesting new films, and TV programmes similar to what viewers have already been watching. Unlike Target, Netflix personalise their content to the benefit of their customers, without running the risk of disconcerting them and damaging their brand. Boots also do a similar thing of offering up discounts on products that customers already buy regularly, avoiding any information that might jump to assumptions about the customer and their lifestyle.

Clearly it’s a fine line between being creepy and being cool. The good news for smaller businesses is that even the biggest companies don’t always get this stuff right. M&S are great at targeting individuals with personalised adverts, but visit their website and they generally fail to personalise any aspects of it using the same data. Even Amazon, who are renowned as one of the best companies online, often make the mistake of re-targeting customers with adverts for items that that they have only just bought or vaguely looked at out of curiosity.

For smaller businesses, it’s essential to manage the customer’s journey as much as possible. The first step is to maximise every two-way contact channel you share with your customer, and make sure they run as seamlessly as possible. Next, identify who your customers are. Finding digital fingerprints for your customers isn’t difficult – collect this data and analyse it. Once you know who your customers are and how they’re connecting with your service and product, you can optimise and increase consumer engagement through personalisation.

EasyJet offer another fantastic example of how effective simple personalisation can be. The EasyJet website now identifies your location and, baring your desired destination in mind, will automatically prompt you with flights tailored to suit your requirements. It’s a simple ploy but, within the first six months of this initiative, EasyJet’s revenue has increased by 20 per cent.

There’s certainly no reason why smaller businesses cannot experience similar success through such tactics.