We Know You…

I’m going to play back two attempts at hyper-personalisation that have actually happened over the last 5 years - the names of the companies involved have been removed to protect embarrassment (and lawsuits). If you’re not sure what hyper-personalisation is please sit in the unknown for a few more paragraphs - we’ll get to that.

Story 1: Beverage Company

I’ve popped out for the weekend to get some shopping in for my other-half’s upcoming birthday - I know what I want to get, I’m an efficient shopper, so I walk in with a purpose and head to a particular store. As I stroll into the shopping centre my phone automatically picks up the publicly available Wifi and 30 seconds later I receive an automated marketing SMS:

“Hi Mal, We have 15% off a refreshing drink waiting for you at Shopping Centre Kiosk on Level 1. See you soon!”

Story 2: Dental Services

I am a routine visitor to the dentist every time I get the regular reminders but I just get the usual check, clean and polish. One day after seeing a particularly intriguing set of pearly whites on a passerby I decide to investigate teeth whitening, including looking at my regular dentists website - halfway through that mission I get distracted by work and carry on with my day. A day later I get an email from my dentist:

“Hi Mal! Is it time to freshen up that smile? We know it’s still 3 months until your next checkup but if you use code SMILETIME in the next week you can book our Hollywood Teeth Whitening service and be smile ready in time for those Christmas photos.”

Put yourself in both of the scenarios above and ponder how you would feel by each of them. Do either make you feel uneasy? Do either make you feel convenienced? Make you feel heard?

We’ll come back to these in a moment.

What is Hyper-Personalisation

In a very simplistic nutshell hyper-personalisation is using a bunch of your personal data (demographic data, behavioural data, preference data etc) to build a message, offer or series of communications just for you.

It can be something as simple as knowing your name because you’re logged in to a website from a previous visit and instead of the default website you see “Welcome back Mal” written up the top. Alternatively it could be something as complex as tracking you across a multi-step journey that has spanned for many hundreds of actions you’ve taken over the last 3 months across multiple channels (mobile, in person, website, call centre) that all leads to an offer tailored precisely to your needs delivered through a channel that you are most likely to respond to (we know that you like to do some late night shopping on your mobile before bed, so we send it to you then).

From a terminology perspective instead of traditional marketing Campaigns you’ll refer to hyper-personalised Journeys and instead of Cohorts you’ll be dealing with Micro-Segments or often Individual Customers - these terms are largely self-explanatory, but it’s important to note the difference between the old way (classical campaign marketing) and the new way (hyper-personalisation).

A Brief History of Marketing

Mad Men gave us a great (albeit airbrushed for Hollywood) view of the marketing game in the 1960’s, when advertising was really taking off as an industry. Advertising and marketing were evolving quickly and having to learn to scale even faster as economic globalisation entered a new post WW2 era after the establishment of the World Bank, IMF and a bunch of free-trade agreements.

Back when marketing was serious business, and (according to Netflix) seriously suave

Weaponising influence for commercial gain was the name of the game, and it took big dollars to achieve this at scale given the cost of sending out any one message to the masses was extremely large. Newspapers, magazines, radio, billboards, television - these were the channels advertisers had at their disposal and they were each largely consumed by significant swathes of the population. You didn’t target Jane, you targeted everyone.

And so it went for the majority of the 20th century where marketing was primarily about creating need and desire for your product. The feedback loop was long and laborious - focus groups, sales analysis - and with campaigns being expensive to develop and run you needed to reach wide and influence powerfully with the hope that your target market would get the message (and the other 95% of the population would simply “put up” with it).

The 21st century has seen a dramatic change to the playing field driven by the Internet and thus a rise in new channels which led to Digital Marketing.

  • First it was Email Marketing, which already allowed a significantly cheaper and more scalable way of segmenting your audience than Direct Mail Marketing.
  • This quickly evolved into banner advertising (advertising embedded within websites themselves) which first started in the 90’s but became ubiquitous by the early 2000s.
  • Google changed the game again in the early 2000s with their introduction of Adwords to their search product which introduced the first elements of hyper-personalisation through a digital channel
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) was the dark art that followed trying to take advantage of these search based ad services
  • Facebook and the rise of Social Media flipped the script for us again and the rise of the “Social Media Influencer” began (I can feel the collective heavy sigh of everyone reading this - thanks Zuck!)

This brings us to today where marketing is multi-channel, will have a mix of traditional campaigns, adtech driven campaigns (eg Google and Facebook offerings), social campaigns (influencer and outreach driven) and hyper-personalised journeys and messaging across multiple different channels.

Marketing today - a whole lot more complex, and definitely less 3-piece suits. (Courtesy of chiefmartec.com)

It’s been one heck of a ride with a lot of fast paced change in the last 20 years.

Back To Our Scenarios

Now we have set some of the foundations let’s revisit the two scenarios presented at the top of the article.

The first scenario (Beverage Company) uses information they have on me:

  • I signed up (with basic info of name, phone number, email) for a loyalty app to get every 10th drink free
  • This app reports back my device ID, my location (if enabled) and any connected networks (eg Wifi for location approximation)

They used this information to know when I am nearby a kiosk and, without checking on my preferences or my likelihood of being nearby with the purpose of purchasing a drink they contact me.

Immediately I know that Beverage Company is watching me. They know where I am even though I had no intention of getting a drink, in fact I wasn’t thirsty in the slightest - I was on a mission to buy a present.

The second scenario (Dental Services) uses information they have on me:

  • I am a routine customer and they have all my contact information including digital information as passed along by Google (I’m logged into Chrome at the time)
  • They know I searched for teeth whitening services and know that I am not due back for a routine checkup for many months

They used this information to contact me via a passive means (email) with contextually helpful information that I had already inquired about and offered me a discount in advance.

The first scenario is an example of poor hyper-personalisation - it comes across as creepy and would (more often than not) do brand damage.

The second scenario is helpful - it is assisting my inquiry and offering me a service at a personalised discount.

But they both use personal information to deliver me a discount…why is one bad and the other good?

Context Matters

Here is a line I have used too many times to count:

The difference between helpful and creepy is context.

It really is all about context - walk through the example above again and think about which message was delivered with context, and which was delivered without.

The bottom line - if you convenience someone at the right time, through the right channel, in the right context then they will mindfully register the convenience. If you reach someone at the wrong time, or through the wrong channel, or without context it is very likely they will not only mindfully register annoyance but will also think deeply about how much you know about them.

This is the magic rule of hyper-personalisation: avoid being a creep. It’s just not good.

Don’t be a creep!

The moment someone is creeped out, they will actively put effort into removing your ability to monitor them (they’ll block permissions on apps, they’ll unsubscribe from marketing, they’ll avoid your brand and products).

If It’s So Tricky, Why Do It at All?

This all sounds like too much effort - if we cross that line between helpful and creepy suddenly we’re losing customers instead of gaining them? If the risk is so high, can we simply not do it at all and go back to the good old days of mass marketing a single message?

Here’s why:

I could keep rattling off a bunch of overwhelming statistics that all point to the same conclusion - hyper-personalisation is not a nice-to-have and given the low barrier to entry provided by many of the SaaS industry leaders there’s little reason why any company can’t be doing at least some level of hyper-personalisation.

How Do You Run the Gauntlet?

Hyper-personalisation requires a level of customer obsession - it requires company processes and structures to be established in a customer-centric way that can both authentically and accurately hear the customer voice and nimbly respond as it changes. It is a high-risk play, but as the number above show it’s also a high reward play to the point where it’s almost impossible not to pursue.

You need to go in prepared. Start small and dip your toes in the water and be prepared to find out the limits of your customers through a series of experiments that will both hit and miss - the point of hyper-personalisation is not to never get a miss, it’s to respond quickly if you do.

As digital consumers we will more often than not give a second chance if change is swift and responsive, so you do have room to err - but a third chance is significantly less likely.

With this in mind approach your hyper-personalisation experiments, strategies and projects with a customer lens on the whole time - this is not the 1960’s, product is not king, you must be wholly and authentically customer centric, and you must know how you’re conveniencing your customers with their hyper-personalised journeys (this isn’t a vibe thing, this is a measurement/science/data thing). When you get it right, your customers will reward you with data, with influence over their behaviours and habits, and with repeat patronage to your brand.

And if you find yourself being creepy, it’s never too late to change - the best day was yesterday, the second best day is today.