Helen Souness, RMIT Online CEO examines whether the pendulum swung too far in the case of data-driven marketing.
It goes without saying that technology has exploded incredible innovations and efficiencies within the marketing sphere. Increased targeting has allowed businesses to connect with the right audience, in the right location, with the right message. Developments in AI have resulted in improved customer service through chatbots and on-site personalisation. Advanced email automation through platforms like Marketing Cloud allow us to see how many emails a person might view before they feel message fatigue, what device they are viewing it from, timed to be delivered at the optimal hour for open rates.
However, with consumer data becoming increasingly available and commoditised, is there a risk that brands regress to dehumanised personalisation? Could they start to look, sound and feel the same and will we see more and more businesses sacrificing creativity, experience and loyalty on the short-term altar of conversion?
Why does that matter to the consumer?
For consumers, data-driven performance marketing has led to an oversupply of homogenous brand advertising. Brands are rarely serving unique, creative or meaningful messages that inspire loyalty or conversation.
Personalisation started as a tool that was largely available to big brands with endless marketing budgets. Today, it has crept into all corners of the business world, and while it has resulted in hyper-personalised, consumer driven experiences, it has – for some – come at the cost of creating a differentiated brand promise and strategic vision.
We have become focused on the rational and less concerned with the emotive. Our marketing efforts tend to focus on micro engagements with customers – smoothing the path-to-purchase, increase sales pipelines in the short-term and provide an overview of micro engagements with customers. What we need to start asking ourselves again are the more existential questions, like ‘Why do people love our brand?’, ‘What drives customer loyalty?’, and ‘What is a brand, really?’
Revival of meaningful branding
Branding as a concept is so often relegated to the world of design and communications, when really, it should drive the very core of the business. It’s why RMIT Online has launched a course dedicated to Brand Experience to kickstart a new wave of thinking in business leaders, helping them to understand the impact of brand across all parts of their organisation. All the technology in the world won’t help you truly reach consumers and clear business hurdles if the core brand strategy is not right.
While personalised experiences are a critical part of customer experiences, personalisation as marketers have been practising it, does not necessarily equal meaningful, human or even friendly. This sort of robotic surveillance has led to less favourable statistics. One Gartner study found a majority of consumers lack trust in digital advertising and another predicted eight in ten marketers would abandon personalised marketing altogether by 2025. Is it set to become just another shiny toy that distracts us from bigger issues?
Of course, not everyone believes that personalisation is necessarily the death of creative marketing. Many experts have pointed out that brands, especially global ones, now face unprecedented scaling problems: having to deliver hundreds of campaigns to various regions, media channels and demographics simultaneously. Data-driven marketing is the obvious (and scalable) solution.
Then there’s the question of creativity itself. Creativity flows from insight. So, in theory, the more insights you have, the more you know about your consumer, the more opportunities to be creative. It ultimately comes back to empathy—taking cold, hard data, and spinning it into something new that can really connect with your customers in a meaningful way. Our quest to have personalisation at scale has led to conveyer-belt thinking, without providing a genuine motive behind the insight we are using.
You don’t have to look too far to find examples of personalised marketing that have the opposite effect. Take for example, insurance giant, Aviva, who accidentally addressed their entire email database as Michael earlier this year.
Hiccoughs like this are funny, perhaps, but they aren’t the real problem. Data-driven marketing and obsessive metric-measurement may give consumers what they want (frictionless transactions and nifty product suggestions) but not what they need (connection, understanding, surprise and wonder). What’s the last personalised digital marketing campaign that touched you emotionally? And what’s the last one you can actually remember?