While once hyped the world over as the future of marketing, personalisation has fallen out for favour in a world of diminishing third-party data, poor customer experiences and a lack of clear ROI.
Reflecting on Gartner research from 2019, which predicted 80% of marketers will have abandoned their personalisation efforts by 2050, senior EMEA media director at GSK Consumer Healthcare, Jerry Daykin, described the need for a “mature conversation” about why personalisation might not be the future of marketing.
“A lot of the industry talks about the fact that personalisation is the inevitable future of marketing and we’re on this unstoppable train that is more hyper-targeted, more personalised. That mass media is dead, that TV is old school,” he noted today (20 October) at the Festival of Marketing: The Year Ahead.
Daykin suggested that the strangest thing about personalisation is it’s often a tricky way of making marketing relevant. He characterised it as, at times, the “most extreme way” of trying to be noticed by customers – digging around in their bins to find out about their interests and then “throwing them back in their face”.
“A lot of brands haven’t necessarily considered having two or three versions of their adverts and they’ve gone to ‘Let’s have 10,000’. That again seems like an extreme leap. Whereas, yeah it does make sense to have slightly different iterations, especially if you’re doing an advert with more creative touchpoints that could be different,” said Daykin.
“You can get really great personalisation with context and understanding the environment you’re in. Why do we jump straight to really hard data targeting?”
Too many marketing conversations start with, ‘What data can I get from people and how does it help me?’
Jerry Daykin, GSK
The GSK media boss called on marketers to think carefully about where personalisation is appropriate and where it isn’t. He also warned against any campaign where “personalisation is the idea”.
“If you’ve got a great idea and personalisation adds to it, brings it to life, makes it happen, great. If your idea is, ‘I’ve found some technology that allows me to personalise and I’m going to show cats to some people and dogs to others’, then don’t be surprised if what you end up with is a little bit dry,” Daykin noted.
Fellow panellist, Virgin Red marketing director Linn Frost, agreed that it would be dangerous for marketers to put all their eggs in the personalisation basket and start making assumptions about customers. Frost argued that insight always trumps “gimmicky personalisation”.
She pointed to the launch campaign for Virgin Red, where the team used media buying tool Viewer’s Logic to amplify the thoughts of a sample base. The marketers did not, however, rely on this tool alone and focused on attitudes, rather than demographics or behaviour, to target customers.
The Virgin Red marketing boss described basing marketing on demographics, location data or lifestyle stages as an out of date approach.
“It’s about approaching [personalisation] with caution and not going down one route. You really can’t take that risk, because you could risk switching everybody off, rather than engaging a few,” Frost added.
Director of marketing engagement at the LinkedIn B2B Institute, Ty Heath, identified the issue with personalisation as the fact it layers assumptions on top of assumptions, which become less and less accurate.
She pointed to the B2B Institute’s annual trends report, which identified a key trend called the ‘sub-prime data crisis’. The report cites a study between the MIT Group and Melbourne Business School into the accuracy of programmatic data, which found gender targeting was only 50% accurate and age targeting was only correct in 25% of cases.
There is often added complexity from a B2B perspective. Marketers may be targeting a buying committee which includes procurement, legal, product and finance. Furthermore, LinkedIn data suggests that over the course of four years typically 40% of the buying committee will have moved on, making the danger of making assumptions even more pressing.
It’s about approaching [personalisation] with caution and not going down one route. You really can’t take that risk.
Linn Frost, Virgin Red
Add to this the cost involved, said Heath: “Think about creating 100 ads for 100 people, versus creating one ad for 100,000 people. You can see how the costs go up and then the question we have to ask ourselves is – is that additional complexity warranted? Is it worth it?” she questioned.
“Instead what we should be doing is embracing uncertainty and thinking about how we sharpen the experience, but on the advertising side all the assumptions we are making are leading us into a difficult space.”
She pointed to the length of the B2B sales cycle and the timeframe before a potential customer is in the market to purchase. In this case, marketers need to think about building mental availability with future buyers and engage in ‘broad targeting’ of the entire category.
“The first thing is you target the entire category. You think of three to five messages that are category entry points for buyers. Three to five different buying situations that are similar. We assume that people are dissimilar, but I think we’re more similar across those unique buying situations,” she noted. “And you think big list, not big fish.”
Embracing a cookie-less world
Reflecting on personalisation in the context of third-party cookies, Frost insisted that marketers will have to find smarter ways of asking their audience what they want and need, and then reacting accordingly.
Daykin explained how powerful it is when brands offer consumers a chance to lean in. GSK Consumer Healthcare built a website during the pandemic for its Voltarol brand, allowing consumers to share details about their health to receive a personalised exercise plan.
Many people were willing to share their data because they clearly understood the value exchange, backed up with the promise that GSK wouldn’t sell their information or use it to chase them around the internet.
“In cases like that you can get a really good value exchange, but it starts from asking ‘What does a consumer want to give me their data for? What can I give them in return?’. Too many marketing conversations start with, ‘What data can I get from people and how does it help me?” said Daykin.
Some 18 months ago GSK launched Project Zero in EMEA, an initiative to ensure the business was ready to activate its marketing without relying on cookies.
The team have explored various solutions around context and doing more with first party and partner data. Brands don’t always need as much data as they think, Daykin argued, while some of the third-party data marketers relied on was often inaccurate and expensive.
“I don’t want to paint a picture that we’ve decided personalisation isn’t important so we’re going to treat all our consumers as one homogenous blob. We think that starts with insights and really understanding those powerful, unique human insights,” he added.
Daykin pointed to the work the business has done around diversity and inclusion, understanding why consumers react differently based on factors like culture, gender and sexuality. This has required developing new ways to reach them that don’t require third-party data, such as making standout creative or finding authentic ways to enter their communities.