When Personalization Goes Wrong—And Ways to Make it Right

Posted on by Varsha Chawla

There is plenty of evidence, both empirical and intuitive, that consumers want businesses to understand them. A recent survey from SAS found that consumers want to be treated as individuals with information tailored to their needs through their preferred channels of communication, and they want a consistent experience during interactions. Targeted communications make sense for the consumer and businesses. But when, how and why does personalization sometimes go wrong?

The first problem that can arise is not matching the message to the recipient. A colleague recently told me that an airline sent direct mail to her children, offering them discounted trips to Brazil. The kids are aged 8 and 11 and have no plans to travel to Brazil anytime soon. What was the thought process behind this? The airline has a record of the kid’s ages from their frequent flyer accounts and from the many times the kids have travelled with them (none of their trips has taken them to Latin America). Is it a good business practice to mail a catalog to minors who have no discretionary income? While direct mail actually has a slightly better response than email, 25% vs. 23%, it costs about 100 times as much!

How could this have been avoided? Paying attention to simple demographical data points when creating content is often the easiest way to ensure that appropriate content is sent to the right recipients. At some point in time, demographic data is collected either through an online form, in-store, via email, a social network, or when talking to a call center representative. The trick for organizations is to properly capture, cleanse, categorize /score, and then decide how to re-use this information. A glitch in any of these data processes can result in incorrect or irrelevant information, as might have been the case with the airline mentioned earlier. Accurate data goes hand in hand with creating relevant marketing campaigns that segment customers appropriately. When done properly, marketing automation can increase revenues between 20 – 30%.

The second trap that marketers sometimes fall into is not delivering consistent personalized messages across all channels.  If you personalize an email, but send blanket messaging through direct mail, you better be prepared to eat the cost of the direct mail piece and settle for a lower conversion rate.  A centralized contact history repository can ensure that email, mobile, and direct mail messages are all in sync.

Here are a few practical ways to ensure that direct mail is in sync with digital channels:

  • Add consistent names in headlines on emails as well as on direct mail pieces
  • Provide personalized metrics such as: “You have saved over $89 with us this year by using super saver coupons” in the content
  • Keep track of offers sent via email and direct mail and minimizing duplication when needed
  • Personalizing images according to age or gender, and incorporating “the Amazon effect”: “We think you may be interested in these related products.”

Advanced analytics can minimize the cost of these mailers even more through micro segmentation and even more honed targeting. Segmenting by demographic is often the first step in personalizing content. Micro segments can almost instantly make the personalization even more compelling by pulling in much more detailed factors. An example of a micro segment is: “Athletic, tech savvy stay-at-home-moms.” What’s the benefit of defining a segment with such detailed characteristics? Well, we know that there’s a fairly high chance that this micro segment will be interested in yoga videos in iPad format. This audience is probably also more interested in receiving offers via text message or email, so we can decide to send personalized offers via these channels, instead of direct mail.

Personalization is almost always a good idea for both digital and direct mail channels. But only if these marketing efforts are in sync! Consistency leads to a pleasant customer experience, and that in itself is a win. Combine that with saving money on creative resources, printing, and postage, and all of a sudden you have an even bigger win.

Varsha Chawla is a senior solutions architect at SAS.


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