Personalization is the Buzzword of 2014 for Marketers

February 8th, 2016

David-phoneItʼs far more than dropping an addresseeʼs name into a direct mail letter. Itʼs not including <first_name> and <company> field into an email. The overwhelming amount of data that exists for each one of us can enable savvy marketers to deliver a message that is not just addressed to a recipient by a correct name, but addressed by true understanding of our needs, desires, dreams, and behaviors.

The sheer volume of data available on each one of us has spawned another buzzword, “big data,” and itʼs an apt moniker. Buying habits, location, abandoned e-commerce shopping carts, web page youʼve visited, how long you linger in a store and what direction you shop – itʼs all available, and not just to the NSA.

What was long considered the Holy Grail of personalized marketing —addressable TV commercials, where a specific TV ad is delivered to a specific household — is a reality, with over 42 million households reachable through DirectTV, Cablevision, and Dish Network, among others, and the number is expected to reach 50 million by year end. VW is among the marketers testing the waters here, bringing TV ads directly to whom they believe to be their best prospects.

Unhappy with the service you received at the hardware store? Tweet about it, and you may hear from the retailer with a coupon to come back in. Hotel room in disarray? Post a picture of it on Facebook and publicly shame them, then donʼt be surprised if the manager reaches out to you with an offer to correct the problem. And now youʼre in their database.

The upside to all of this knowledge is that marketers can deliver highly relevant messages to customers. Visit a website to browse for air travel, and expect to see ads for travel deals pop up on every website you visit for the next month. (For those of us who do research for clients, it results in some very unusual ads.)

Itʼs like Howard Gossage said: “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes itʼs an ad.” Personalization in both message and delivery is how we transform ads into something interesting and engaging.

Thereʼs a dark side to personalized marketing, however, and marketers must be careful to not cross a boundary and become too “big brother” in their efforts. Many consumers are uncomfortable knowing just how much detailed information marketers have on them. They know where youʼve been shopping. They know what TV shows you watch, what you buy, what you donʼt buy, what your neighbors buy, and how often you buy it. Amazon recently filed a patent for “Anticipatory Shipping” wherein they will ship you things you want before you know you want them. How much information is too much information?

A few years ago, Target got in trouble for sending coupons for baby items to a young woman they determined was expecting based on her purchases. She was 16, and itʼs how her father learned she was pregnant. And recently, Bank of America sent a credit card offer addressed to “Lisa is a slut machine.” Officemax sent a promotional offer addressed to “Mike Seay, daughter killed in car crash.”

The lessons? Tread carefully. Handled well, a personalized marketing message delivered to a targeted prospect at a relevant time is the most effective and efficient thing you can do. But itʼs probably not a good idea to let customers know exactly how much you know about them.

Howard Gossage, one of the all-time greatest and least known of the advertising greats. Read “The Book of Gossage” to learn more.

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