Personalisation: a yellow brick road, littered with potholes

If the Uber economy has taught us anything, it's that consumers are selfish and technology is the catalyst.

Uber: offering a highly personalised experience, like picking Spotify tunes
Uber: offering a highly personalised experience, like picking Spotify tunes

Want a cab, right now? You can. Want a new boyfriend, at a swipe? You can.

Several brands have spotted this trend and regrouped their digital marketing efforts to cater to that selfishness. The marketing engine of the on-demand economy is personalisation, where brands offer highly tailored experiences, informed by data.

Making customers feel special is a basic tenet of marketing, but the driving forces behind personalisation mean that this rarified capability could be available at scale.

66% of British consumers are concerned by the amount of information held by companies to boost their personalisation efforts

The joining factors of mobility, artificial intelligence, data and programmatic are slowly coming together to make ‘live’, tailored marketing possible.

Remember social?

The space is immature though and brands risk losing trust if they misuse consumer data or spam them, according to Daniel Fellows, senior manager for digital and social interactions at Vodafone.

He likens the current state of personalisation to social media when it first burst onto the marketing scene, exciting and dynamic but devoid of strategy.

He told Marketing: "Social was the big thing everyone wanted to do, but they were not sure why they needed it.

"There were questions around which platforms to use, what value it has and what conversations we should be having."

Vodafone is exploring personalisation, something Fellows says requires initial investment in and  understanding of technology.

The operator has the advantage of more data than many brands might have access to, captured from smartphones, its website and offline. That’s a necessity for truly personalised marketing, but reams of data can be difficult to mesh together.

He said: "Many companies are prioritising personalisation across their business. That requires [joining up] parts of the business working in siloes.

"If you have six or seven different databases, but put it into one data management platform, that avoids sending the same customer six or seven marketing messages."

Simple enough, perhaps, but then there’s the complicated choice of picking an off-the-shelf data management platform, or building one yourself.

Fellows said: "In the short term, building your own solution is  more  expensive, but long term it will be yours from an IP point of view."

Privacy and respect

Personalisation only works if a marketer has a very human understanding of their audience to begin with, says Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet.

She said: "Some brands and agencies see mums as humourless automatons. Before you can start on segmentation, and cutting the audience, you need to understand the audience.

"We spend a lot of time on Mumsnet really understanding what these women with children are like – they’re still women, just with a different emphasis on their lives."

Some brands and agencies see mums as humourless automatons -before you can start on segmentation, and cutting the audience, you need to understand the audience

She added: "Personalisation implies a level of knowledge, that a brand understands what you are going to like."

Understanding the audience might help marketers avoid pitfalls like hoovering up too much data.

Consumers will generally be happier handing over personal data to a truly useful brand that respects their information, claims Fellows, citing Dunnhumby and Tesco as an example.

Still, he acknowledges an apparently trusted brand can lose that trust, as exemplified by the Carphone Warehouse disaster last week. 

Fellows said: "Social is a good example. Giving permission to Facebook grants [a brand] access to 230 different points of data. If you play a competition on a brand’s Facebook page, they’re housing that data in a back-end solution. Do customers know what they are giving away?"

He added: "Brands have a responsibility to ensure [data use] is clearly signposted."

More than transparency, however, brands also have a responsibility not to suck up data indiscriminately.

A June study from YouGov and Deloitte found that 66% of British consumers were concerned by the amount of information held by companies to boost their personalisation efforts. Another 50% don't want companies to use information for personalisation full stop.

That means marketers still need to convince British consumers of the benefits of personalisation and, more importantly, give them control over their data.

Carrie Longton and Daniel Fellows are speaking at Marketing's Digital Exchange Forum in October. Visit the Marketing Digital Exchange Forum website to find out how to attend.