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Personalisation in marketing - A tricky path to tread

Sarah McIntyre About The Author

Fri, Feb 20, 2015

I walked into the hip new coffee place around the corner from the office the other day. I've been going here a little bit, amongst the exposed brick and hipster staff, they do good coffee. But the other day as I walked in the barista said... "Hey Shauna, how are you?".....Seriously?? Shauna??

I looked over my shoulder, half expecting to see Ferris Bueller's cranky little sister.  "Umm..hi!" I said... "I'm Sarah". The poor guy looked mortified. It's OK I understand that some people aren't great with names.  I'll still keep going there, the coffee is good, but the experience was awkward for both of us.

This is unlike the experience I have with my regular coffee place, all I need to do is walk in, lock eyes with Mario the barista and he makes me a skim flat white. Perfect. He knows not to speak to me before the first cup of coffee and never over steps the mark.

But seriously we've all had this experience of being called the wrong name, and while it's not a major problem it doesn't make us feel great or like they really care and in the online world where trust is hard won if you are going to personalise you need to make sure you get it right.

Email personalisation gone bad

Email is one of the easiest places to begin personalisation, but if you are not careful you can easily deliver a bad experience.  I think we've all seen things like Hi {contact:firstname} or Hi asdklf so you need to be vigilant about the cleanliness of your data if you are going to personalise. If you're not confident then make sure that you structure your copy in a way that still makes sense if the personalisation token data is missing. Some email providers have a default term that's used in place of the missing field, but that can also sound clunky.  A bit like calling someone love or darl or mate when you can't remember their name.

Just because you can does it mean that you should?

If any of you use marketing software platforms, like Hubspot, you know the rich amount of data that is now at your fingertips. You know when someone has opened an email, you know when some is visiting your website, and it's tempting to come across as the over eager suitor... I saw you looked at the pricing page.... Can we get married now?  This is just plain creepy. Even some people are put off if you use their name when re-visiting a web site. For example "Welcome back Sarah" makes it obvious that you are tracking them. So consider your customer when you think about personalising, not just that you think it's cool thing to do.

All comes down to the cleanliness of your data

The beauty of Hubspot is we can segment data and categorise people by their personas so we could in theory show them very personalised content that's relevant to who they are and where they are in the buying lifecycle. This sounds awesome, but there's always going to be errors purely because of the nature of people. Some will select the wrong job description, company size, or other criteria that you use to determine both persona and lifecycle stage, some will not put in real details, some people refuse to use Capitals to start their name (what is up with that?). So there will be contacts who could have a less than perfect personalisation experience  So is that worth it? Is it safe to assume that people who enter dodgy information are not valuable? Do you have the resources to go through your database with a fine tooth comb looking for errors?  Could you just say "Welcome back" rather than "Welcome adsfk"?

Trust in an online world

In my experience baby steps are needed to build trust online. Visitors have their guard up, they don't want to be conned, they don't want to speak to anyone, they're doing research, they'd like to think that they're anonymous, so don't blow their cover. Introduce what you know gently...for example.. I noticed that you visited the resource centre did you find what you were looking for? Easy, simple, helpful.

Deep personalisation is a tricky path to tread

I believe what's worse than being creepy is being wrong.  When used judiciously, it can be very powerful, so start with the things that you are confident with, like Smart CTA buttons, first names in emails or even segmenting by IP address to show pages with local events or pricing in local currency. But be vigilant with your data and start small and it won't be an awkward encounter after all.

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