Paul Porter, executive planning director, Mars London
Paul Porter, executive planning director, Mars London
A view from Paul Porter

Think BR: Personally speaking

Personalisation is here and it's becoming increasingly sophisticated, writes Paul Porter, executive planning director, Mars London.

Personalisation is one of those words that has risen inexorably up the marketing agenda. Yet it can mean so many things.

In its crudest sense it can cover the gamut of promotional pens and other items carrying personal details, as well as clunky direct mail campaigns that carry personalisation only as far as emblazoning the recipient’s name on the outer - and frequently misspelled at that. 

Today, personalisation has become much more intelligent. The sophisticated use of data has opened up opportunities that marketers could only have dreamt of as little as five or ten years ago. Technology has made a reality of what was previously the industry’s collective wishful thinking. 

Yet there’s still room for personalisation of the simpler kind. Success comes when brands put the ‘personal into personalisation’. Let me tell you a little story of mine.

I’ve just received a personalised bank debit card. The smiling image of my two kids now beams out at me every time I spend. While it rubs just a little more salt into the financial wound that has plagued me since my first interactions with the UK banking industry, as a doting father, it now hurts just a little less.  

Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for bankers and I greeted the news of the industry’s downfall with a mix of schadenfreude and glee - perhaps they’d all go bust and lose any record of how much I owe them. Wishful thinking indeed.

But I do love my kids and the new debit card got me thinking about the cunning trap that I’ve fallen into. Ask yourself how many dads are going to take a picture of their kids out of their wallet and destroy it? If I changed banks then that is what I’d have to do.

In other words, they may just have got me for life. Cunning swines. Mind you, the trouble maker in me also secretly hopes that lots of customers have applied for cards with very inappropriate images that the automated process just delivers.

There’s nothing hugely new about this type of personalisation except for one thing. Never underestimate the power of emotion and a very personal connection. The banks got me via my kids and I was a willing participant.

Apple enables personalised engravings on the back of its range of iPods etc and that’s neat in a similar way. Similarly how many teenage kids - and their parents too if we’re honest - can resist creating their customised Converse?

Then there’s Starbucks and its handwritten coffee cups, though that’s more cute than revolutionary. Here in the UK Heinz managed to combine technology with emotion in its ‘get well soup’ campaign that allowed consumers to send a personalised can of soup to sick friends.

What unites these examples is that they are fun, personal and score high on the emotion-meter.

Yet applying personalisation of the kind referenced to in the Starbucks and Heinz examples to brand packaging can easily backfire. 

Marketers must make their way carefully - too much personalisation of the pack can mean the brand loses what makes it most appealing to consumers. In other words it no longer looks like it should.

In focus groups we have run exploring this area, participants have repeatedly told us that they ‘don’t want something that looks like a cheap imitation’ of the product they usually buy.

But get product personalisation right where it counts most, on shelf, and it can be a powerful force to drive purchase and brand loyalty.

While these are all valid examples of personalisation I’m prepared to admit I may have thrown you a bit of a red herring. If we’re honest, the real skill in personalisation is not in putting a name or picture of the consumer’s kids on a product.

Rather it’s about adding real value in the broadest possible sense via the intelligent use of data and influencing behaviour via targeted initiatives delivered via a constantly connected, 4G enabled, free WIFI-enabled environment. Tesco’s futuristic personalised online 3D shopping experience where every consumer will see a slightly different store is where this gets really, really clever, for example.

?It’s also true too that so far, data-driven personalisation has been centred on email, online and couponing, but social media activity coupled with a combination of location-based mobile services and action data now offers retailers and brands the opportunity to communicate with shoppers in-store on a true one-to-one basis.

It’s difficult to say with total precision quite where all this will end but in the coming year, any shopper without a smartphone is going to feel increasingly marginalised, especially when people like Tesco’s Philip Clarke of have put personalisation firmly at the top of their shopper agenda!

Paul Porter, executive planning director, Mars London