Don't scare away your customers with these personalization fails

It’s no secret that marketing campaigns are getting more and more personal these days; there’s a plethora of tools and data that marketers can use to personalize and target campaigns. The problem is, while it’s become easier to personalize marketing content, it’s also become easier to get personalization really wrong. When it comes to a customer’s experience with your brand, whether it be in-store, via your mobile app or through other personal advertising channels, you’re not just measured against your direct competition, you’re measured against every other interaction that customer has with a brand – including the likes of Facebook and Google. Customers’ expectations are now higher than ever and if they don't get the best, they’ll simply lose interest.

Getting personalization right is not just about remembering to complete that variable data field so you greet the recipient of an email by their name rather than Hi {{First.Name}} – ooops. The key is understanding what the customer’s expectation is and understanding what data you have and when you should use it - because if the customer has made the effort to help you know them better, you can bet they’ll expect you to use that knowledge.

To give you some ideas of what not to do, and provide a little light relief before Halloween weekend – here’s a few of the personalization fails I’ve seen recently that have made my hair stand on end:

Asking for information and not using it

While traveling recently, we stopped at a restaurant in a small town. When the waitress came over to our table she chatted briefly and then took our orders. After taking our orders, she said “And can I grab each of your first names?”. So we gave her our names and she introduced herself and off she went.

It certainly felt feel weird when the waitress chucked it into the end of the conversation that she wanted our names. But it was more weird when at no other point in the evening was there any apparent reason for her to know our names – she brought our meals out to the table without using them.

The two big fails here were not asking for information in a natural manner, and then not using that information once she had it. In this case, it was probably a staff training issue but these are things we see all the time in mobile apps and websites.

At all costs, avoid weirdly verbose signup forms and don't ask for seemingly irrelevant information. Instead of requiring vast amounts of information upfront, try progressively getting to know your customers by gradually asking for more information as the relationship develops.

Personalization fails: use what you know
Personalization fails: use what you know

Getting hung up on predictions and forgetting to use what you actually know

Just last week, my wife received this mailer from a major supermarket chain advertising a high value whitening toothpaste and brush. She’s a member of their loyalty program and the mailer had clearly been targeted to her.

So the supermarket had obviously trawled through their customer database, run some propensity modelling and built a list of all the people who were likely to buy this toothpaste. Of course I say the supermarket, but in practice this was likely done by a data agency with the list then passed on to a creative agency, then back to a mailing house to have the drop done.

Somewhere during all this my wife saw the product advertised elsewhere, went in store and purchased one. She received the mailer just over a week since she’d purchased the exact same product she’d just received a heavily discounted offer on.

There’s a couple of things that have gone wrong here because of the disconnect between the point of purchase and the distribution:

First, the customer is probably annoyed because they’ve just found out they could have saved money on a purchase made a week ago. And given the frequency of the purchase and the short life of the coupon, they’re not likely to use the coupon sent out.

Second, even if they did use the coupon, the supermarket has given them a discount on product they’re already buying – all the brand's achieved is giving away some margin unnecessarily.

There’s some obvious problems with the distribution method here, and I don’t think anyone would argue that in the era of continuous personalization and targeting that mail isn't always the way to go. But it’s still a trap that many brands fall into with digital media – if you don’t have your data collection, distribution and point of sale tightly linked you run the risk of sending outdated or irrelevant offers.

You need to manage expectations in a continuously connected world – customers are used to other services that instantly evolve – as soon as they purchase something, as soon as they view a promotion, you should be taking that information and using it to tailor how you’re marketing to them across every channel.

Not using the information you have

Personalization fail: use location
Personalization fail: use location

This one really gets me because Uber is such a forward thinking, digitally advanced company and yet they seem to be missing one glaringly obvious piece of data when it comes to marketing: Location. Their whole service is based around location and their mobile app is a perfect example of giving the customer something valuable in exchange for sharing their location – in fact, I couldn’t use the app without sharing location services.

However, this information doesn’t seem to filter down to their email channel. Yesterday just hours after grabbing a ride in an Uber car in Auckland, New Zealand I received an email from Uber San Francisco letting me know that they were going to have #UberKittens available in San Francisco and several other select locations around the world. Of which Auckland isn’t one.

Yes, I did first sign up for Uber in San Francisco, yes I do use the service there, but in this case, it should have been obvious to them that I wasn’t in San Francisco. And what can possibly be worse than knowing I’M MISSING OUT ON KITTENS!!

Actually, it gets worse than that – I MISSED OUT ON ICE CREAM!! There may not be any #UberKittens in New Zealand, but there is #UberIceCream. So when they were making their rounds while I was in Auckland, do you think I got a push message or an email? No – I found out when a colleague next to me got a push message, because Uber was still treating me like I was in San Francisco.

Uber clearly recognizes the value in treating customers differently in different geographies because they’re not just blasting out messages to everyone everywhere, and they’re running targeted local promotions. So I can only speculate as to why they’ve missed the connection when it comes to their marketing. However, it’s certainly something that a lot of businesses struggle with and more often than not, it comes down to a disconnect between business systems and marketing systems. What’s worse is that this often happens within the same app - when companies have one system running their push message delivery and another running other key parts of their app such as checkout. Too often systems end up separated because it’s just too difficult to integrate.

The lesson here: if it doesn’t connect to your existing ecosystem, don’t buy it. Or if you really need it, wait until you can also afford to have someone build an integration.