By Scott Logie, MD, Insight at REaD Group

Working as I do in the data marketing sector, I am probably more sensitive to how my data is being used than most.  As an industry we very proudly boast about how marketing used to be mass market and big creative idea led but it has evolved over the last 20 years to being content and data led.  Indeed, we wear GDPR as a badge of honour that the use of personal data is now so high profile that new laws are needed to ensure that it is not misused or abused.

Also being from the industry I see, and also share, lots of case studies of how data is being used to create personal content, drive individual level communications or build real-time offers based on clicks, views and likes.  But in reality, how much of this is smoke and mirrors?  How much do consumers feel that they are receiving highly relevant communications and offers?  How close are we really getting to one-to-one marketing?

There is a slide in a deck that I use a lot that states that the benefits to brands of getting the right balance on personalisation are very powerful with return on investment 30% higher for companies who use data and analytics to personalise their marketing and customer engagement (source: SAS and Forrester Research). 

So there is a compelling business case yet, as a consumer, how often am I impressed by the marketing communications that I get?  Honestly, not very often at all.  What I get through the post is generally identical for me and my wife, often from the same company on the same day.  My inbox is jam packed full of emails which are clearly sent out to everyone on a database but, hey, sometimes they have my name on them so it’s personalised, right?  And on-line I’m pretty sure I see the same ads all the time and when I browse youtube or watch All4 I see the same ads as everyone else does.

We are creating a promise to build engaging, tailored, personalised content based on real-time data but we are not living up to that promise.

Other research I have seen has shown that only 25% of companies reckon their marketing could be described as personalised with around a third of marketing using some form of segmentation.  Segmentation feels like a dirty word these days.  It is often derided by many people.  Why would you use segmentation when you can get to real personalised content by analysing clicks and likes?  Why use a broad brush approach that classifies people into a number of groups when everyone can feel like an individual?

My response would be this – at least a segmentation can help to bridge the gap between mass marketing and one-to-one engagement.  Call it practice.  If we can tailor content, emails, adverts to a few segments then over time that can become automated and refined to get towards the personalisation utopia.

In many cases it isn’t even as if the segmentation doesn’t exist.  I see a lot of instances, sadly, of segmentation work being done but the next step of tailoring comms and starting to move towards a more personalised customer experience just never happens.  As a data analyst this makes me very sad indeed.  Maybe we are not being forceful enough in showing the value of implementation, of helping achieve that 30% uplift in ROI.

The longest journey starts with a single step.  My feeling is that many organisations are fearful of taking that first step.  There is a lot of procrastination – it will take a lot of effort, it should be perfect when we go live, let’s test and see what level of difference it makes.  Status Quo is the easy outcome, things are not too bad just now so let’s leave them as they are.

However, by not even trying to make a change we are letting the data down, we are wasting investment, we are letting the hard work by the analysts in creating the segmentation go to waste as well as the marketers who instigated the work.

But much much more importantly, we are letting our end customers down.  The next time a decision is made, or more likely, not made, to defer the implementation of a more personalised approach think about this: Would my customers be impressed by the current emails I send them?  Or the mail they get through the post from me?  Or the ads they see on-line?  Would they feel it was delivered just to them because I know them so well?  If not then what’s the risk of taking that first step?

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