How to personalise your marketing (without creeping out your customers)

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It’s not personal, as the old saying goes. But when it comes to marketing, everything is personal. 

I think we can all relate to the cookie crumb trails that follow us around the internet, pushing us personalised adverts that brands hope will make us buy their products. For example, let’s say you’re researching a family holiday to Spain, but you don’t end up going through with the booking due to cost or roadblocks at work. Surely this signals the end of the dream holiday, right? Think again. You can expect online ads to start following you around the internet, popping up on all your regular sites reminding you of all the great things you’re missing from your fortnight in the sun. This is a pretty common scenario of marketers using customer data to personalise their campaigns. 

But when do the adverts that track and follow our online steps edge over from being personalised to feeling creepy, or even invasive?

Crossing the line

Even in a post-GDPR world, we’re likely to receive numerous emails and be pushed ads across the web - all using our personal data to target us. What websites we visit, what content we read, and where we check-in is all digital gold dust for marketers keen to send us targeted offers. Don’t get me wrong, this outreach can be useful and welcomed. It can help us buy the right anniversary present for our loved one, be sent timely notifications for upcoming birthdays or help us find the right software to purchase for the workplace. Personalised marketing, done right, saves us time, acts as a useful reminder and finds us the best deal. All helpful, I’m sure you’ll agree. 

But, sometimes, too much personalisation in marketing can start to feel a little awkward and invasive. There’s a very distinct, if undefined, inflection point where an overbearing approach simply puts us off. This is bad news for marketers as it is exactly when potential customers stop paying attention to personalised offers and start ignoring them. And as GDPR has shown, finding out just how much information a company holds on you and your business can be a reality check.

Here are a few tips to avoid crossing the line and maintain trust with customers when using their data. 

Know how and where your buyers consume content 

It might sound obvious, but the best way to ensure you're adding real value for potential and existing customer alike is to know them well. This is a science in and of itself and requires both demographic and firmographic data. What drives buyers to respond to marketing varies based on their age, company role, previous purchases and their individual needs.

In fact, recent Spiceworks research revealed some rather telling differences in the ways IT decision makers and business decision makers consume content. IT decision makers spend more time evaluating tech solutions and researching potential vendors. They consume 17 pieces of content on average (typically via webinars, online forums, or conferences) before making a final buying decision. Conversely, business decision makers typically only consume 12 pieces of content, but they’re more receptive to traditional marketing channels such as email and phone calls.

The age of a decision maker also makes a profound difference. Spiceworks research shows that compared to baby boomers, millennial buyers are more likely to turn to Google and social media to learn about new products and services. Millennial buyers are also twice as likely to respond to a personalised message than Gen Xers and baby boomers.

In other words, a millennial might be receptive to a personalised video from a trusted brand that addresses them by name, but baby boomers might find it a little Big Brother esque. It’s all about knowing who to target with what message.

Do your homework and add value at every touchpoint

The most important thing to do with any marketing campaign is to add value to a customer’s day. An email to a prospect saying "thank you for downloading the white paper ... would you like to chat?" just isn’t going to cut it. The email will likely get ignored and, at worst, they’ll avoid revisiting your site. You can add huge value simply by digging a little deeper. Sending prospects timely, relevant information, such as a video how-to or infographic, that explains how to solve a problem they're facing can make all the difference, and encourage them to choose you as a vendor.

Timeliness is everything, and when marketers help solve a problem, prospects are much more likely to share information about themselves, their company, and the challenges they face. It’s essential to do your homework and find out where each customer sits in the buying cycle, and what more you can do to make their day a little easier. 

Get digital feedback: Thumbs up or thumbs down? 

Finally, it’s imperative to get feedback on your personalisation efforts as this will enable you to measure the true impact of marketing efforts. Find out how customers and prospects respond to different campaigns by requesting feedback in real time. This could be as simple as adding a poll in your emails or requesting a prospect to give you a quick "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" on personalised content you created for them. 

All feedback is good feedback and it helps you tailor the experiences you create for different customers and markets. Also, with GDPR front of mind, it gives customers and prospects more control over how their data gets used. 

Ultimately, personalisation is all about trust. This trust comes from providing the right message, via the right channel at exactly the right time. The more value you add to your customer’s day, the more willing they’ll be to engage with you and share their data in return for more personalised experiences. 

Jamie Bowler, Marketing Director, EMEA & APAC at Spiceworks 

Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock