I dread to think what some companies reckon they should try and sell me based solely on my digital or social media activity. I seem to discuss Brexit and the general election a lot these days – often at length and frequently with the caps lock on. What would be really nice is if some smart-thinking algorithm could do me the service of finding me a discount on a relaxing spa day. Or maybe a new punch bag.

Marketers journey far to unearth that Holy Grail we like to call ‘personalisation’

Still, this raises a poignant question and, indeed, one addressed by Matthew Dunn, Managing Director of Targeting for Experian. In a recent white paper by the global financial services and credit experts, entitled #7for17 – Seven views on the future of marketing, Mr Dunn poses this to marketers:

“Use yourself as an example. Is your digital activity an accurate representation of yourself and your behaviour in the real world? Could someone paint an accurate picture of your character and behaviour based solely on your Facebook profile?”

It’s an interesting point. While many marketers journey far to unearth that Holy Grail we like to call ‘personalisation’, is it possible that the whole ‘personalising’ bit of it fell by the wayside?

He continues: “For someone to be able to tailor their messaging so that it is relevant and of interest to you on a consistent basis, they need a whole range of data types, from online to offline, geo-demographic and digital.”

Use yourself as an example

Personalised challenges

I dare say this could ring true for anyone that has experienced that odd, retrospective habit of targeted online advertising. For instance, I invested in a gazebo a good few months ago; the company I bought it from is still trying to sell me gazebos. Unless this is an abject indictment of how good their gazebo is, it’s not exactly a forward-looking vision of me.

I can predict I will do all sorts of things online in months to come; buying a gazebo a day is not one of them. If marketing communications are to be personalized to me, this is not a good place to start.

Nine out of 10 marketers surveyed by Experian admit they are trying to personalize their communications to some degree. And yet, eight out of 10 say they have challenges in achieving a more individually-based insight into their consumers – the ‘single customer view’.

‘Challenges’ is a broad term, and, with that in mind, there are likely to be many marketers yet to consider that the digital you isn’t necessarily a good reflection of the real you.

People change, characters develop, and needs diversify

Communicate responsibly

We follow the customer data trends and try to optimize content and communications in line with those. That’s necessary, but there’s a missing piece to the puzzle. While regulations and technologies evolve and change, one thing remains constant, and that’s how well you know and understand your customers. Datasets and trends will continue to build and diversify, creating an ever more complex picture of customers online. But one needs to consider these traits in the context of a living, breathing person that is greater than the sum of their parts. It’s how you communicate effectively, but it’s also how you communicate responsibly.

Of course, things are a little more sophisticated than trying to avoid selling customers five versions of the thing they just bought.

For example, in its paper, Experian considers the ‘Life Escalator’. Let’s say someone, somewhere, buys or engages with certain products, services, and content. In five years’ time, will they be the same person buying or using the same things? Are you the same person you were five years ago? I’d suggest not entirely. People change, characters develop, and needs diversify.

I mean, can you even be sure that you’ll be regularly using the same social media channel in five years? Already some sections of society are getting weary and making a point of restricting their online habits to only the most necessary. Will you even be using social media at all? It’s why A.I and chatbots are becoming more prevalent – nearly half of consumers say they would rather contact a business through messaging than on the phone. How different is that general feeling about the world to five years ago?

Consumers insist on, and demand, a personalised and coherent customer experience

Changing our lives

Data volume is increasing near-exponentially. Experian rightly points out: “Data is changing nearly every aspect of our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. The way we purchase goods, run our businesses, treat medical patients and manage our finances are all increasingly shaped by data.”

But, as this volume increases, the tendency for marketers can be to ignore large swathes of it, perhaps out of pure fatigue, or maybe to focus on figures that fit directly with their goals. But that attitude won’t work when consumers insist on, and demand, a personalized and coherent customer experience.

You have to be smarter to get ahead. People-focused marketing isn’t just about data; it’s about using that data in the context of an individual’s needs. We always apply a persona-led content marketing strategy for exactly this reason; we want to know who we’re talking to and know messaging they will value.

Apply a persona-led content marketing strategy

You can look at this from a broad geo-demographic angle as much as the individual, too. For example, half the working population will be millennials or younger by 2020. These people are generally more relaxed about sharing personal information with brands in return for receiving offers, discounts, and services they’re genuinely interested in. That’s something marketers will be able to utilize to great effect if they know how to target consumers properly.

We are in the age of big data, but personalisation is about bringing big numbers down to an individual level. Remember, customer data is insight; customers are people. If you wanted to get the most value out of your business, what would you need?