Russell Parsons: Personalisation is not a panacea for all marketing’s problems

Demanding and in constant need of validation: this was the rather blunt assessment of the new customer offered by Meabh Quoirin, managing director of the Future Foundation last week.

Russell Parsons

Speaking at the Marketing Society’s annual conference, Quoirin said the new breed follow brands but expect a follow back; demand instant responses; and expect brands “to tell them what they need to know that they don’t know yet”.

In short, they want a deeper, more personal relationship with data as the facilitator. “Consumers often feel as if they are at the end of an ever-defining algorithm, but want and expect things to become more tailored to them in future,” she explained.

I would imagine that most in marketing would be inclined to agree. Data-driven personalisation is an unstoppable juggernaut that will lead to untold riches, is it not? It is refreshing, therefore, to hear a contrary view.

At Thinkbox’s debate ‘Science is squeezing out the art in advertising’, VCCP founder and chairman Charles Vallance was persuasive in his condemnation of those who believe data is always the silver bullet solution.

Those who argue the case that people are only persuaded by personalised, precisely targeted advertising are misguided. People are influenced by what they experience collectively, Vallance argued. Tools such as programmatic can leverage and exploit great creative but do not lead to artistry. “Precision does not persuade,” he said. “We mistake accuracy  for effectiveness and precision for persuasion.

Vivaki’s president of global clients Marco Bertozzi countered that in a world where media is increasingly fragmented and there is a growing attention deficit, engagement can be only achieved using technology to help advertisers find, understand and target customers. Vallance’s motion won following an audience vote.

I am firmly in the middle. Data-driven personalisation will help satiate the requirements of needy customers but it also creates expectation that can be difficult to meet. It can help execute and deliver on campaigns but if it dominates the marketing conversation at the expense of creativity, campaigns will become one personalised but indistinguishable howl. Personalisation is the answer to some, but not all, of marketing’s questions.

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