Mass marketing to one: an impossible task?
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Mass marketing to one: an impossible task?

Four experts offer ways to reconcile the scale and reach of online marketing with consumer expectations of personalisation.

From the moment the first broadcast email with a customised subject line was sent, consumers have come to expect more and more personalisation. However, to simply personalise using demographics is no longer enough. We now expect personalised website landing pages based on past browsing behaviour, in-store mobile communications offering promotions-based past purchase behaviour, and online ads offering precisely what we want to buy at that exact moment.

At the same time, the internet allows marketers ever-greater scale and reach with its mass communications. Today, approximately 40% of the world’s population has an internet connection, compared to just 6% in 2000. While 14% of British adults may still be offline, according to Ofcom, that still means 50.3m people are connected, and the number is growing every day. Usage is also growing; millennials are checking their phones more than 157 times every day.

Marketers face a daily challenge to reconcile the scale and reach of online marketing with consumer expectations of personalisation. Here, experts offer four suggestions for how to achieve this.

Idea 1: Stop relying on cookies

Paul Wright, CEO of iotec, says: “Don’t rely on cookie data. It is notoriously inaccurate and out-of-date. By looking backwards, you have no insight into what consumers will do or what they may want next. Your scale diminishes and you begin to market to the same people over and over again. Talk to a programmatic, self-learning, buying platform that’s deductive – not assumptive.”

Idea 2: Invest in data

“Using the right data is paramount,” says Paul Hickey, director of digital solutions at life event marketing firm TwentyCi. “Advertisers need to have a truly holistic view of consumers which looks beyond demographic and intent data, bringing in factual life event data and offline transactional history to ensure that targeting has context that shows ‘why’ someone is doing what they are doing.”

He concludes: “Whereas in the past advertisers bought an audience of one million for its campaign, today’s brand marketer buys an audience of one, but does it a million times.”

Idea 3: Use horses for courses

Sam Knights, director of shopper media agency Threefold, argues that it is simply a case of different media for different tasks. He explains: “The best businesses continue to use a combination of broadcast, high awareness media at the front end of the customer journey – creating desire and driving trial. However, once consumers ‘come through the door’ or get to the shelf, they use personalisation based on shopping behaviour to increase the likelihood of conversion and shorten the shopping journey.”

He adds: “A great example of this is Shop Direct, which is probably the UK leader in this field, investing heavily both in back end personalisation to sharpen the journey of shoppers when they arrive on site, but still creating stand-out broadcast communications. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is a multi-billion pound retailer that has grown double digit year on year on year.”

Idea 4: Reinvent the industry model

Finally, James Champ, chief strategy officer at creative agency STACK, proposes a more radical solution. “The more meaningfully you personalise, the more pieces of communication you need,” he says. “It’s a lack of marketing bandwidth that puts the brakes on personalisation. With a single idea, we can either target many people with a less personalised message, or target fewer people with a more personalised message – but not both.”

His answer is a fresh model for the creative industry. “The mass communications model is to spend lots of time and money crafting not very many ideas, so it looks like we need a change of model. What could it change to? Well, words are fast and cheap. One place to start might be to invest in more and more imaginative writers, let them loose on the internet and see what happens.”

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