Don’t forget the ‘person’ in personalisation

Dartboard bullseye

One thing that I always stress when using digital channels and tools, is that it helps to think about them in an offline context. This is a particularly useful approach when faced with the wealth of opportunities to target, retarget and personalise communications online.

As a teenager I used to hate going into the Levis store due to the way someone would pounce on you as soon as you walked in the door. Yes it was a helpful service to find you the right fit of jeans but their assistants didn’t always allow enough time for you to get your bearings. Today, lots of websites do this with their instant pop ups asking if you want to chat when you arrive on their site.

A couple of weeks ago I went on the Runners Need website. I had a look at some trainers on there but was planning to go to a store to actually get them. So I didn’t add anything to my basket or do any other actions on the site. The next day I received an email from Runners Need asking if there was anything they could help with because ‘they had noticed that I was browsing on their site’.

Runners Need Email

Personally I find this a little too big brother! Can you imagine if you went into a shop, looked around, left and then further down the High St one of their assistants caught you up and said ‘hey you were just looking in our shop, can we help you with anything?’? If they had sent me an email about the trainers that I was looking at, that would have made more sense.  Perhaps giving me more information or highlighting customer reviews. This is where it is so important to collect the right data and use it in the right way.

This week I was on both Sports Direct and Bobbi Brown Cosmetics sites where I had added things to my basket but then got distracted and failed to complete the order. Both companies have since sent emails saying they have saved my basket for me, that’s a great service, especially on Bobbi Brown where I had added multiple products. I will use those emails to click back through to make my purchases and the marketing teams have saved a sale.

Even Amazon, the pioneers of recommendations, seem to have lost their way a bit recently. I bought a shredder a few weeks ago and then this week got an email suggesting that I buy another shredder. Just how many documents do they think I have to dispose of?! Booking.com is another company which seems to lack imagination in their retargeting programme. Last year I went to Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York. Since then they have constantly sent me last minute deals for those three locations – I’ve been there, done that Booking.com, how about you suggest some places that are similar?

If you think about the great salespeople that you have encountered offline, they are the ones who chat naturally with you and take the time to understand your needs. The woman in the clothes shop who compliments you on a dress that you are trying on and says ‘ooh you know what would go great with that dress? These shoes or this necklace.’ Before you know it you have bought more than you went in for but they are good purchases which work together and they have enhanced your experience.

Which brings me to another bugbear – retargeting about a specific product. Yes we are able to collect a wealth of data about online behaviour but we still need human input to make sure that we are understanding the intention. For example someone may look at a product on your website, read the reviews and then decide against it. But if you are just retargeting based on ‘has looked at this product’ then you could end up following them around the web with an advert for something that they have already ruled out. Again if you map that into the offline world, imagine a sales assistant following you round with a shirt that you already tried on and it didn’t fit? It smacks of desperation.

In this age of programmatic buying where you can use so much information about your customers and prospects to give them a truly fabulous experience, I recommend two things:

  • Don’t leave everything to an algorithm, add the human touch
  • Think about your communications in an offline context, if it would be annoying there, then it probably will be online too

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