Personalisation: Holy Grail or Hype?

By Natalie Peckham,

Personalisation in marketing isn’t a new concept. The late Lester Wunderman invented the idea of direct mail and targeted messaging nearly 60 years ago. Wunderman argued, that the future of advertising should be in collecting detailed information on audiences and targeting them with specific advertising tailored to them. So how has this played out in this day and age, and is personalisation really marketing’s holy grail, or is it all just hype?

A study by Salesforce states that 52% of consumers would switch away from brands that don’t personalise communications. In the same survey, 65% said that personalisation influences their brand loyalty. Now that’s quite a high percentage, and certainly not one to be ignored. However, around half of the audience aren’t particularly influenced by personalisation and therefore, is it really worth doing? What we do know, however, is that storytelling can really strengthen your brand. Emotion, authenticity, personal connections and driving to action. That’s what storytelling is all about.

What does this mean?

We are bombarded with advertising messages everywhere we go. As humans, we simply cannot absorb the information from each and every one of the ads we’re exposed to on a daily basis, and therefore, we need to make our ads stand out in a sea of different messages and creative. Now, that’s where the power of personalisation comes in…

As marketers, we’re all programmed to try and reach our target audience at the right time, at the right place, through the right channel. This is becoming increasingly more difficult as the world of marketing gets more competitive. So, how do we cut through this noise?

Personalisation seems king in this day and age, and it’s all around us. Algorithms play a big part in making most aspects of our lives personalised. From your Amazon homepage, to your Tesco shopping and Netflix account – algorithms are working behind the scenes to make your user experience a personal one.

Warner Music Group have recently become the first major record label to sign a distribution deal for music created using an algorithm. Endel’s business takes listeners’ real-time data – such as their location and even their heart rate –  to deliver personalised, well being-boosting soundtracks. People are becoming accustomed to spaces and experiences that dynamically react to and reflect the data of those engaging with them.

How does this look in practice?

So, how does this translate into advertising? Dynamic advertising uses audience insights to tailor adverts to specific people. Let’s say you come onto an insurance website, input your details into an enquiry form and then off you go on your merry way. Later, you’re served a banner advert on a website which is scarily accurate and relevant to you. Your name, policy quote and a big ‘finalise quote’ call to action button is following you around as you surf the web. You click it, because it’s captured your attention and is talking directly to you, right? Before you know it, you’ve got a brand new insurance policy.

Channel 4 has bolstered its ad suite with the launch of Dynamic TV, which harnesses user data to deliver personalised video ads combining creative campaigns with calls to action. Both Boots and Suzuki have used this new and innovative feature in order to drive customers to their closest store using data points like weather, time of day, date and demographics. Boots has recently harnessed this ad delivery to target ABC1 women to buy their No 7 range in their local store.

This doesn’t just apply to online advertising. Microsoft ran an out of home campaign in 2015 to promote its personal assistant ‘Cortana’. These digital ads, displayed in bus stops and on billboards, would dynamically change based on factors such as the location, weather, day of the week and time of day too. These ads aren’t personalised, as such, but are using contextual signals to make something feel more personalised.

So what happens when algorithms and fancy tech aren’t at our fingertips? How can we ensure we’re keeping things relevant for our audience? This is where you come in. The power of language plays a vital role in the personalisation of ads, and can make or break the impact it has. Words are critical in the development of stories and driving an emotional response. Gone are the days of stuffy, wordy ads – today it’s all about capturing your audiences’ attention as quickly as possible.

As well as great content, it’s all about how you distribute this to your audience. A great comms plan can make your audience feel valued, and this is crucial in ensuring you’re delivering a personalised service and having multiple touchpoints with your audience throughout the user journey. After all, two-thirds of consumer and business buyers are likely to switch brands if they are treated as a number rather than an individual.

Personalisation in summary…

So, does personalisation drive sales? It’s unclear. The counter argument is that personalisation done wrong, is actually worse than no personalisation at all. Think about it, you’re surfing the web when an ad is served to you. You notice that the information in the advert has the incorrect personal details and the day of the week is wrong. Instantly, you lose trust in the brand. If they’re getting that wrong, what else are they getting wrong? The risk of getting it wrong is in fact great, and so it needs to be implemented and used correctly.

Another potential downside is that some of us find personalisation a little too scary. There does need to be a fine line between personalisation and respecting people’s privacy. However, the figures state that people do actually like personalisation. In one study, Yahoo said that consumers find personalised ads more engaging (54%), educational (52%), time-saving (49%) and memorable (45%) than general-audience ads.

Understanding customers underpins every marketing strategy, but brands spend too little time identifying the right target context for their message. Context is key. There’s little use creating a tonne of personalised ads and hoping that your spray-and-pray approach will stick. Relevance is important, and so it’s key that the user can connect with the brand, messaging and advert, as well as the context and setting it’s being served in. It’s important not to try and shoehorn your advert into a space – respect the context you’re advertising is in.

A recent study by the Guardian found that contextual relevance boosted campaign effectiveness across several consumer perceptions, with 23% more consumers seeing a benefit in the ad placement, and 18% more feeling positively towards the advertiser. Done well, all of these factors can see real uplift in ad campaign performance.

As you can see, personalisation is everywhere, and as technology grows, so will the need to increase the relevancy of ads. From personalised podcasts, to dynamic TV advertising, there’s no escaping the power that it has and will continue to have in this ever evolving industry.

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