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Stop personalisation from becoming creepy

From the sales assistant who picks out your perfect dress, to the friendly barista who knows your coffee order by heart, you can’t quite beat the warm touch that personal service creates. There is however a fine line between being personal and being downright creepy; finding that balance has never been more important for digital marketers as they talk to customers.

According to a March 2015 global survey by DigitasLBi, online shoppers log onto retailer sites as much for the personalised experience – browsing items they previously viewed – as they do for the promotions. DigitasLBi also found that 87 per cent of respondents purchase more and/or more often if an e-commerce site provides personalised offers. Shoppers are also embracing e-commerce websites that cater to their personal preferences, curating content that is based on past behaviour (Connected Commerce Survey 2015, DigitasLBi, 2015).

Our internal research shows that personalised treatment incentivises 42 per cent of consumers to engage with brands (Consumers losing patience with brands that get their details wrong, Emarsys, 2014).

The secret to personalisation is utilising data effectively. In the UK, HotelStayUK achieved a 104 per cent increase in ROI from email marketing by selecting promotional campaigns on the basis of A/B testing. Luxury online fashion retailer LuisaViaRoma’s increased email engagement contributed to a 215 per cent increase in orders.

Here in Asia, international sports retailer Decathlon S.A. is deriving 13 to 15 per cent of its web revenues from personalised website and email recommendations. The personalised content is generated by an automated system that evaluates how a shopper is browsing the site and then provides recommendations based on their behaviour.

Not everyone gets it right, though. A few years ago, US retailer Target was able to predict when its female customers were pregnant. Target then proceeded to send pregnancy-related coupons to customers, much to the horror of one angry father who complained that the company was encouraging his 14-year-old daughter to get pregnant.

A few weeks later the father apologised, revealing that his daughter had confessed that she was indeed pregnant. Target knew about the girl’s pregnancy before her own dad. Now that is creepy.

Getting it right
These four tips can help digital marketers ensure their personalisation strategy is up to scratch.

#1 Don’t get too personal
Just because a customer once bought something from you, that doesn’t make you ‘BFFs’. While digital natives tend to be open to personalised marketing, because they know that online activity can be tracked, some people are less receptive to personalised messages.

Perhaps the most significant element of creepiness is surprise. Marketing crosses the line from ‘cool’ to ‘creepy’ when a customer is surprised that a company has some particular knowledge about them.

For example, if the teen had told Target that she was pregnant and asked them to send her promotional offers, then nobody would have been upset with Target (whether her dad would have been upset with her boyfriend is another matter).

To avoid alienating customers, make sure your marketing campaign instills trust. If a customer trusts you, they are more likely to give you information about themselves. The key to this is to ensure that personalisation is relevant. If you give customers what they want, trust will build over time.

#2 Know your audience
To create a truly personalised campaign, the devil is in the detail. A good way of getting to know your audience is by grouping customers into personas based on where they are on the acquisition, conversion, or retention journey.

There are many different personas you can create depending on your business’ needs.
Let’s say you were working on a revenue recovery strategy. Research included in our whitepaper found that 98 per cent of customers never convert and of the few that do, 70 per cent never return.

In this situation, using the following personas would remind you that each customer is unique and requires a specific approach:

  • Deserting Diana – the customer that visits your website but doesn’t make any purchases
  • Hesitant Henrietta – the customer that makes it to the shopping cart, but abandons it last minute
  • Fickle Fiona – the customer that buys from you once then disappears
  • Golden Gordon – the loyal customer who suddenly stops buying from you

By segmenting customers into personas they become real people, not just a piece of business.

#3 Connect, don’t suffocate
You know that annoying guy who always talks about himself and whenever he opens his mouth you switch off? Don’t be that guy.

Of course it’s fine to promote your business, but do so in a way that demonstrates the value you give to your customers.

Effective marketing is about being helpful, not pushy. Think about different channels of communication and what your customer would prefer.

In a world where companies compete for consumers’ attention every day, it will always be quality, not quantity, that counts.

#4 Get the right tech behind you
Get data rich by using the right tools to learn how customers interact with your website and digital marketing campaigns.

What product did they spend the most time looking at? Did they read your blog?
As each customer is different, you need to reach them individually at the right time with the right communication.

Automation helps tailor the experience to each user, creating a unique and more inviting experience that is entirely relevant to them, which will likely lead to conversion.

Combining intelligently applied data and automation technology can deliver timely, profitable communications that the customer will value.

Follow but don’t frighten
When it’s done badly, personalisation is at best annoying and at worst creepy. As we enter the world of the Internet of Things, marketers need to learn how to follow their customers – but not frighten them. Only then will companies craft truly powerful marketing campaigns that deliver great return on investment.

Benjamin Glynn is the Singapore Country Manager at Emarsys.
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