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People want messages that matter to them, not messages directed at them

Technology & Data

People want messages that matter to them, not messages directed at them


The race to achieve personalisation seems to have replaced the search for relevancy as the perceived holy grail for effective marketing, says Joel Vincent.

Joel Vincent 150 BWFor every article espousing the game changing benefits of personalisation, I am left with a nagging feeling that surely the goal is just to be more relevant. 

As a graduate, my first job was ‘targeting’ catalogues. The primary purpose in my role was to identify households that would be more likely to find a retailer’s catalogues relevant and appealing. By putting the catalogue into the hands of people more likely to be interested in what was being promoted then the retailer should achieve better results. This intuitively made sense to me. Why would single, young, house-sharing renters want a catalogue for new trendy expensive designer furniture? They probably don’t. So why waste marketing effort putting one in their letterbox?

The idea of targeting marketing to appeal to an audience that are more likely to find it appealing has formed the bedrock of my working career ever since. But an obsession with one-to-one personalisation without an equal passion for relevancy just doesn’t intuitively make as much sense to me.

What is personalisation? 

When words are co-opted by the ‘hype-train’ it can be valuable to examine the word’s true meaning and assess how far it has strayed:

Personalise (ˈpɜːsənəˌlaɪz) – according to thefreedictionary.com


a. To render personal rather than impersonal or purely professional

b. To make or alter so as to meet individual needs, inclinations or specifications 

c. To have printed, engraved or monogrammed with one’s name or initials 

2. To take (a general remark or characterization) in a personal manner.

3. To attribute human or personal qualities to; personify

Think back to the grocery stores of the past, where the owner knew what you liked, could predict what you were likely to buy and knew what new products you might be interested in. The modern execution of this at a much larger scale is ‘personalisation’. By meeting individual needs, inclinations or specifications, the concept of marketing personalisation does appeal. 

There is an assumed truth that consumers are demanding more personalised experiences from companies, and indeed there are numerous studies that support this assertion. Sure, it feels right because, in many ways, it seems just so very sensible: who wouldn’t prefer a more personal interaction over an unwanted one with a stranger?  

But I suspect that if the word ‘personalised’ was replaced by ‘relevant’ then the enthusiasm would remain, if not increase. I don’t believe consumers wish the marketing they received was hyper-personalised; just that the messages they received are for something they are interested in.

The ideal solution is an informed and relevant service that doesn’t overstep the boundaries of personal space.

The role of segmentation

A good consumer segmentation provides the essential ‘bedrock’ to execute relevant content. A solid understanding of what consumers want, need or prefer will help maximise the effectiveness of any messaging without inadvertently overstepping the mark. 

Segmentation supported by substantial and actionable insights that are understood across multiple user types is an important ingredient for success. There is discussion regarding the effectiveness of established customer segmentation practices, especially in light of the processing power and data handling capabilities that now potentially enable the mythical segment of one. Yet, the appropriateness and effectiveness of this segment of one approach is questionable. 

Traditional segmentation procedures that create clusters of consumers with similar demographics, attitudes and lifestyles provide a crucial and (most importantly) reliable foundation for effective and appropriate personalisation applications.

For example, say you are selling a skateboard. A reliable measure of the likelihood the target audience are subscribers to Thrasher magazine instead of Cyclist is a more important driver of campaign success than the level of campaign personalisation. I am not suggesting the entire personalisation discussion is devoid of references to good data, segmentation and contextual relevance. What I am suggesting is the quest for individualised, hyper-personalised campaigning often forgets the power that can be found in understanding a consumer’s needs, wants and beliefs. 

Personalisation versus relevancy?

Ultimately, yes, personalisation can create an increased sense of the connection with the customer. But without relevancy, the value of personalisation is lost. Returning to my earlier catalogue targeting years, the relevance of the catalogue far outweighed any ability to put it in a letterbox. For a useful personalisation initiative, we must focus on the importance of relevance and how to achieve it.

Joel Vincent is market insights manager at Experian Marketing Services


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Image credit: Dmytro Titov via 123rf


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