Bad personalisation… personalised marketing, go to your room!

Written by Jason Groom
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Originally published
September 28 2016,
Personalised marketing becomes really great marketing when it’s so smartly executed you don't actually realise it’s happening. But with more brands embracing it, and more automation managing it, the potential for it to come unstuck grows exponentially. Assumptions, hyper-relevance and we humans all have to take a share of the blame.

Remind me. What does assume do?

There’s an airline that boasts that it’s “the world’s favourite”. It’s also mine. But sometimes routes, timings and budget conspire to make it impossible to travel with them. That was the case recently and, arriving at the airport for my return journey home with an alternative (let's call them X) carrier, we found we’d been “bumped off” our flight. Hundreds of pounds, three hours, and several gins later, we finally arrived back in Blighty, but to a different airport and courtesy of a different airline.

24-hours on a warm and heartfelt “Welcome home” email from X pops in to my inbox. Seems said airline felt it had been a pleasure to have me on board and was keen to hear my feedback on the flight. Not half as keen as I was to give it.

Their marketing had made assumptions about my customer journey (in all senses of the phrase). That, because I bought a ticket, I would have travelled. There was no final check, no warning flag or validation that I had indeed made the flight. This particular customer’s journey had hit a bump in the road, and the lack of check-in or issue of a boarding card should have identified an anomaly.


The filter bubble

You may have heard of Eli Pariser and his 2011 “filter bubble” theory - his TED talk that explains it fully is here 

He suggests that over-personalisation can detrimentally affect a web user’s experiences by only presenting content which the site deems the visitor will find relevant or interesting. While that might initially be comfortable, the user becomes accustomed to seeing only his own tastes and beliefs represented (the online equivalent of royalty believing the world smells of fresh paint!) His perspective and views are re-affirmed but, ultimately, he enjoys only a narrower, more limited choice.


There’s a human involved

Nothing, but nothing, can muck up your personalisation efforts like a human. Starbucks and their hand-written, personalised coffee cups being a prime example. Mark with a ‘k’? That'll be Kark then!

Such an error is small (perhaps even intended?), the impact negligible, and the moment fleeting. But ask a user to fill in a web form, with no prizes or reward for accuracy, and the ripples from any typos or inaccuracies can flow through your marketing, campaign after campaign, year after year.

Done well personalised marketing is both inconspicuous and seamless. A home page that lists only goods I'm interested in, a direct mail piece which offers only things I'm likely to buy, or a travel company’s email that presents destinations I’d want to visit might, to the non-marketer, seem little more than serendipity. As Arthur C Clarke famously said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”!

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