Personal connection or personalisation?
A view from Sue Unerman

Personal connection or personalisation?

Personalised content isn't always the right move.

Two outlaws have been pursued by the law through the desert. They’re finally cornered on a clifftop. If they fight, they’ll be killed. Suddenly, one of them thinks of a way out. A huge leap down into a fast-moving river.

Butch: I'll jump first.
Sundance: Nope.
Butch: Then you jump first.
Sundance: No, I said!
Butch: What's the matter with you?
Sundance: I can't swim!
Butch: [Laughing] Why, you crazy – the fall'll probably kill ya!

This iconic scene is from one of my favourite movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. If you don’t know the movie (and if you don’t, go watch it now), it is funny, it’s about real deep friendship and loyalty, adventure, not playing by the rules, flexible strategy and, of course, cowboys. This will surprise no-one, but the closest I’ve ever come to any involvement with the cowboy community is a pair of lovely pink cowboy boots I once owned in the 1990s. There’s nothing relevant to me in the cowboy messaging, but the movie moves me enormously.

Today, of course, technology would allow that content to be personalised. Personalised so that it was more relevant to my life with the intention of creating a bigger impact. What would happen if the messages were personalised?

Given that I don’t ride a horse, better if the scene showed people – well, in fact, women, driving cars. The closest I get to breaking the law is probably the odd parking ticket. And I’m a good swimmer. So, the outlaws on the run, on horseback, from the sheriffs, jumping into rapids, becomes two women, dodging a traffic warden by, hmm, not sure, performing karaoke? (I hate karaoke.)

Dull, dull, dull.

Or take Avengers Assemble, another favourite. Better set it in London’s adland to really get up close and personal. With the Incredible Hulk as a creative director whose transformation is triggered when his work gets rejected by the client.

Except of course not. Because content doesn’t always need to be personalised in order to resonate.

"People don’t remember what you say or what you do… they remember how you make them feel."

This is Maya Angelou, not Les Binet, so it’s a subjective opinion, not the IPA Effectiveness Awards Databank. However, the power of creative and of emotional resonance is obviously also endorsed there too.

There’s more than one way in which personalised content does work very well.

Clearly, for a short-term ROI performance marketing message, personalisation can help to eliminate wastage.

If someone is moving home, it's probably a great time to send them a message about all those purchases that are triggered by that behaviour (home-decorating, buying furniture, energy and broadband switching, even buying a pet for the first time).

Personalising the media plan and the messaging (without being creepy) just makes perfect sense.

Then there’s the kind of personalisation that is about communities of interest. The target market for a brand isn’t just a demographic. She might be a yoga mum or a gym enthusiast or a home cook or a movie lover. Speaking to her in that persona could be perfect for the plan.

Targeting her where she lives and works can add cut-through in terms of copy relevance. "This brand’s for you" can be emphasised by very local creative and media.

There is a role for personalised advertising, not just for short-term sales but also for brand-building and relevancy. Brands are rightly demanding more personalised creative, as Gideon Spanier points out here.

However, we must never forget that the most personal of emotions are not always triggered by personal content.

Advertising or content can resonate personally because of how it makes you feel. Where the relevancy is about being human. Data reveals so much, but not this. We must not lose personal connection for the sake of personalisation.

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom
@SueU

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