Get personal to deliver consumer engagement

Our panel of experts debate how social media and other digital channels can help brands personalise their communication strategies and achieve greater levels of consumer engagement.

CHAIR: Ruth Mortimer – Associate editor, Marketing Week
Tim Harford – Head of donor care, Depaul UK
Gareth Helm – Marketing director, Mars Petcare
Kev McFadyen – Senior direct marketing manager, O2
Helenor Rogers – Marketing director, Church & Dwight
Hema Nagar – Head of marketing, Holiday Autos
Alejandra Arreaga – Global market research manager (footcare), Reckitt Benckiser
Emma Freeman – Marketing director, Headmasters
Simon Longhurst – Senior executive consultancy services (interim), Canon
Gwen Deloux – Procter & Gamble
Richard Kellett – Director of marketing, SAS UK
Alex Smith-Bingham – Head of integrated digital services, consumer products and retail, Capgemini


MarketingWeek (MW): How are you currently using personalisation techniques to reach your customers?

Kev McFadyen (KM):With 23 million customers across the UK, personalisation is a big thing for us. Customers want us to know them and they want to talk to us directly. We’re doing a lot of work testing our targeting versus dynamic ads, cross-referencing our base data with profiling and trying to get right to the nub of the customer journey.

TimHarford (TH): Personalisation is important to us because we want to talk to people on our supporter database in an appropriate way.We don’t want to talk to someone who has the potential to be a major donor in the same way as someone who gives us £2 through a text message.

Emma Freeman (EF): After experiencing poor targeting from other companies, I’m not 100% sure about how I feel about personalisation. After 28 years, we’re just making that transition from a small company to a big one and have all the various internal issues that go with that. We’re very good at collecting data, but not terribly good at using it. Our budgets are very small and we don’t have anyone that’s good at analysing the data that we collect.

Richard Kellett (RK): It’s not about me pushing the message out to the people I want to target, it’s about engaging in a dialogue and understanding their buying cycle. I have to provide information all the time and make it personal at the right time. I agree that personalisation at the wrong time is a terrible thing to do.

Gareth Helm(GH): I have come to Mars as a change agent because the company wants to be social, it wants personalisation and it wants to get closer to the consumer. But before that can happen, you’ve got to get your cultural coding right. You’ve got to understand your consumer base and decide what is relevant for them. It’s important to get personalisation right because you can upset as many people as you can make happy.

Gwen Deloux (GD): Personalisation is about getting the right product to the right people, then maximising that. But it’s equally relevant in product development. Understanding who you’re designing for is very important.


Helenor Rogers (HR): Church & Dwight has a number of brands that are very specific and have a very small target audience. Taking our First Response [pregnancy testing] brand as an example, we know that there are 900,000 women a year who are trying to get pregnant. Those are the only people I want to talk to.

Personalisation is really important because those women want to be spoken to in a veryparticular way – they are going through a very emotional journey. It’s really important for us to be able to find them and talk to them in the right way.

Hema Nagar (HN): We are exploring different ways of using data. For example, we’ve just started testing through dynamic advertising. We’re not looking solely at the customer’s behaviour – just because you’ve been on holiday to a certain destination once doesn’t mean you’re going to go back there.

We need to start collecting data about what people are interested in. Personalisation has a very important role to play in our industry but we face lots of technological challenges on how we deliver those messages, particularly as we are a third-party supplier.

Alex Smith-Bingham (ASB): Ever since the dotcom boom, the digital space has been driving personalisation. One of my clients is making a major shift into the online space. In the past, it was said that digital would dilute the brand but that company is now realising that using it in the right way and making the most of the data can actually be very powerful.

Alejandra Arreaga (AA): Personalisation is a very interesting topic for FMCG companies because it seems to go against our objective of selling to as many people as fast as we can. But it’s something we are looking into and that can be really interesting in terms of targeting our range to the right people in the right way. But I agree that it has to be done in a way that doesn’t feel invasive.

MW: What are the best channels you can use within your business to aid with personalisation?

Simon Longhurst (SL): At Canon, it’s our sales people. It isn’t just about the data, the process and the analytics, it’s also about the people. It’s how you interact with the people on the ground to get them doing their jobs differently, based on the information they’re collecting.


HR: Our most effective way of increasing nasal spray sales, for example, is through recommendations from doctors. You don’t necessarily think of that as personalisation but the one person who really understands you is your doctor. If your GP recommends this product you will go and buy it.

GH: We want to be in a place where our personalisation, our customer care and our databases are all integrated. In petcare, we should be able to provide for the whole of the pet’s life. We’re not there yet. But there’s a section of social communication that can help to hook people into our brand and once there, we can really think of it as a cradle-tograve journey.

MW: But what about digital as a channel for personalisation?

HN: Online is a really important channel for us because there are thousands of Google searches every day for car hire.We’re finding that the customer is looking for us to be more dynamic in the ads that we serve them every day. They don’t just want to see car hire in Florida, they want to see what prices there are and what car types there are, along with maps and deeper information. But one of the challenges we face as a broker is that we don’t own the location ourselves.

TH: Our iPhone app, the iHobo [where users can “look after” a virtual homeless youth] has had huge success with over 600,000 downloads. It was the number one app at the time – both free and paid for – and that engaged a huge audience.

But we learned from that experience that we needed to get more back from the person using it. When we launched the second version of iHobo, it had feedback loops that allowed us to gather data. Had we done that initially, we’d have gathered so much more than we did with the first version. Getting it right first time is really important.

It’s also important to find the right audience. Apple iPhones are used predominantly by under-40s, who are technologically savvy, but I would question whether that is our natural audience as a charity. We’ve also not had many iHobo users donate for a second time, which seems to confirm my fears.

KM: With O2, a customer will walk into a [phone] retailer, give their phone number and expect them to know everything about the account. To give the customer exactly what they want at the right time, when we’ve got not just phones but broadband, financial services and many other products is quite a challenge.


Monitoring the customer journey online is what interests me. We try to track the customer during the “purchase funnel”, which is roughly a 32-day journey. When the customer thinks about a brand and network, we want to be delivering our messages at the right time. Equally, once they become a customer we should know what ads to serve them. It’s wasted media spend to target someone who is already in a contract unless I sell them an added extra like O2 Guru [that gives people technological advice]. It’s about providing a holistic customer experience.

MW: How does social media contribute to your personalisation strategies?

 HR: You’ve got to be really careful. There is a balance to be had – you’ve got to really understand your customer and what they’re going through. Sending me unsolicited contact though personalised emails is not right.

KM: People have missed the fact that social media is really earned media so the content within it has to be earned. Unless you put the right content out there, you’re missing the point.

AA: I totally agree. To do it the right way, it has to be a network that people look forward to being part of. Not because it’s for a product or a brand but because it creates a theme around something they are interested in.

KM: We’ve found that the O2 Guru database of messages, where our specialists record videos on how to use a phone, is the next step for us. We have also taken individual phone problems that were mentioned on Twitter and filmed a personalised clip just for that customer, put it on YouTube and then sent the link straight to that person’s own Twitter page. We’re getting so much social interaction and retweets from this. Although we are only targeting a tiny number of customers in this way, the wider engagement and loyalty you get is amazing.

GH: Social media is good for people who want to engage. They want to have a conversation and Facebook or Twitter is exactly the right place to do it, but other brands just simply shouldn’t be there. When I’ve got a headache, I don’t want a relationship with the brand, I just want pain relief. Understand your brand and its cultural dynamics. In the mass market, you’ve got to be careful how you attempt to create these personalised relationships.

EF: It’s difficult to make money from social media. We have ‘how to’ videos on YouTube, which are beautifully filmed and all paid for by L’Oréal, but because we’re quite localised, we’re putting it out there for everyone else and potentially driving business away. I have a real dilemma as to whether or not that’s the right thing to do. It’s building our brand but is it returning anything to us? I also suspect that people are just linking onto our Facebook page for the freebies. Whether they become loyal is tricky to know.

SL: It’s getting increasingly hard to separate the media channels. People will go into a shop then check the web for cheap prices. We haven’t yet cracked social media but we can’t afford not to be there – there are 600 billion photos on Facebook and 1.5 million photos are served on a web page every second.

TH: We had a relationship with an organisation that manufactured the Rubik’s cube. Together, we launched the challenge to beat the record for the number of people simultaneously solving the puzzle. We used Facebook to finely target the campaign and source participants. But overall, we only maintain a Facebook and Twitter presence because it is good to keep our name out there.


ASB: I see this whole issue in four main areas. First, marketing and brand engagement through fans and so on. Second, transactional data, coupons and competitions. Third, there is customer service and last, research, development and innovation. You need to work out where your engagement points are within these four pillars and then calculate what value you will derive from them, what channels they will cross and how you hone that strategy.

MW: Do people expect a more personal tone from a brand if you’re using social media?

ASB: You have to talk in the right language, whatever the forum is. Dell enjoys great success through social media now but it got it all wrong to start with. The brand chose completely the wrong language to interact with. It has now turned that around to the extent where it has managed to monetise its Twitter interactions.

GH: We are in the interesting situation where some of the communication we put out is far too friendly. If you look at some of our social media, you’ll see the tone yo-yo a bit. We’re trying to arrive at a tone that is genuine and friendly.

MW: How do you get right the balance between personalisation and privacy?

AA: It depends how much the customer is involved with the brand. Products like toilet cleaner do not need personalisation but when I am having my hair cut, for example, I would like to be told what suits me and so on. There are levels at which personalisation will be accepted.

HR: We have the dilemma between the emotional and functional relationship. First Response has had a Facebook page for a while and the women there do get intensely personal. Online is where they find their voice. These people are so emotionally connected to the journey they’re going through that they want to be very, very personal. They’re so involved in the whole process they don’t seem to care about the privacy settings on Facebook. It really does depend on the product and how involved the consumer is, particularly from an emotional perspective.

MW: How do you know what level of information and communication is acceptable in this delicate situation?

HR: Quite often, it’s about not saying anything. An important thing in managing the personal social media interactions is knowing as the brand when to stop joining in the conversation and let the consumer take control.

GH: There’s a degree of trial and error. We would spend a week trying to formulate an answer to a question and by then the consumer has moved on. We’ve just got to be a bit braver and say something, feel that it’s correct and then let it go. Timing is everything, but there is a risk involved.

EF: Our current challenge is dealing with review sites. They tend to be anonymous so we can’t contact the customer to resolve the situation. Most of our personal interactions take place in our salons. Beyond there, there is very little we can do about it.

HN: There are certain review organisations where you can get a corporate login. Sometimes a customer has already been through our internal complaints procedure and they’re still upset. So we can then invite people to talk to us again and say: “We’re really sorry to hear that you’re still unhappy about the experience, please get back in touch to see if we can help.” It is down to the consumer if they want their voice to be heard, but since they have taken the time to go on to this site to give your brand a poor score, they often do want to be heard and want an answer.

One thing to bear in mind is there has recently been a change in the EU regulations that will force website owners to obtain permission from users for storing personalisation cookies on their computers. This will have a significant impact, but I don’t think any of us have really thought about what that means to us.

KM: To a certain extent, it is going to depend on the consumer. For example, it would be a dream for me to go to a supermarket and find everything I need in the first aisle, but that would be a nightmare for others. So how do we let customers opt in and opt out of the journey we take them on? It’s an evolution but we’re not there yet.

HN: The consumer sometimes wants you to be intuitive. They want you to know to tweet or Facebook them. If we don’t collect the information that allows us to read their minds, we can’t be more personalised and we can’t give the right messages at the right time. With things like these cookie laws, we have to give the customer a choice. But sometimes the customer wants you to already know things about them and that’s our biggest challenge.

MW: For FMCG brands, where your customer relationship is filtered largely through thirdparty retailers, how do you maintain personalisation?

GD: You have to talk to consumers and understand what matters to them. They will give you cues on how to get close to them. We’ve got really different levels of engagement and sometimes we can only really target people based on what they buy regularly.

HR: You can micromanage your customer journey on an FMCG product if you’re willing to invest in the data available from the Boots Advantage Card, for example, but you need to check the return on investment. Otherwise, you can make assumptions based on the data that you can apply to the whole of the market.

GH: I think you’re dead right. We do an awful lot of personalisation but the difficulty is that it goes from something as simple as coupons to something that is really engaging. It’s all about ROI and cost. Personalisation comes within a big marketing plan. It’s a balancing act.

MW: Do you have advice for how other brands can implement personalisation effectively?

RK: I think we’ve discussed some real learnings here. If, for example, you make personalisation a rule for your employees and they don’t believe in it, it will not work. It has to be something that is a passion and embedded in the culture that is about the way your employees behave.

We did a global survey with The Economist around social media. We asked not only marketing people but also senior people in organisations about the nature of [brand customer] relationships. Twenty per cent felt that social media would change their relationship with their customers, but 80% said it wouldn’t. That worried me a little.

And 75% of respondents said they didn’t know where their most valuable customers are talking online, while 25% didn’t think their customers could add any value. Literally, I had to step back.

Personalisation is not about technology, but about the people. You’ve got to go back to the starting point – what you are doing with segmentation and being smart at the starting point. Start off listening, then start understanding.



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