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Is personalisation still an important feature for digital businesses?

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Personalisation has always been the Holy Grail of marketing – but at best it is a bit hit and miss. In the era of conversational commerce, is it still what businesses should be persuing, wonders Rodney Laws?

Hello [FIRST NAME]! How’s it going? Since we know you’re interested in [TOPIC], we figured you’d love to receive this update about [SUBTOPIC]. And because you’re such a great customer — and it’s your birthday in [TIME UNTIL BIRTHDAY] — we decided to throw in a discount coupon for [PREVIOUSLY-PURCHASED PRODUCT]. Enjoy!

How many emails resembling that one have you received in the last decade? Probably a fair few, with most having your actual details and some making the hilarious mistake of leaving the variables unfilled. “Hey FIRSTNAME” is one of the worst ways to open a message, certainly. And it’s part of a much broader trend, with countless companies investing in personalisation.

But is personalisation still as alluring to digital business as it once was? It was an obvious target when it became easy for most companies to implement, but that was quite some time ago. Well, that’s what we’re going to consider in this piece. Let’s get started.

Dynamic recommendations are still huge

Perhaps the most important element of personalisation is the process of offering good dynamic recommendations. In other words, drawing upon what’s known about a prospect (and what’s known about comparable prospects) to generate hyper-relevant recommendations for products and/or services. It was Amazon’s implementation of such a system that brought it into public awareness, and it’s since become a staple of the ecommerce world.

These recommendations aren’t just powerful for bringing products to the attention of people with no clear buying goals. They’re also tremendously effective at driving cross-selling and upselling. Being informed at the checkout stage that similar customers purchased certain accessories can convince someone to expand their order quite substantially.

Notably, the process of coming up with dynamic recommendations has become much easier. In addition to being baked into myriad industry-standard ecommerce platforms, it can be deployed in custom implementations through cloud services like Amazon Personalise or Azure Personalizer. This does require either having suitable technical expertise or getting help from experts, though: Amazon’s system can be guided by a consultant such as Capgemini, while Microsoft’s system is best used through a cloud solution distributor with Azure expertise (e.g. intY, a Scan Source Company). There’s a steep learning curve involved.

Surface-level personalisation doesn’t impress

The type of personalisation I opened this piece with — cramming messages with variables — has undoubtedly lost most of its significance since its first implementation. Once upon a time, seeing your name appear in an email felt significant and impressive, but now it feels trivial at best and annoying (or even insulting) at worst.

Companies make the mistake of thinking they can act as your friends, throwing in shallow elements of personalisation to show that they “know” you, but of course you see through the tricks and understand that you’re being pandered to. If businesses want to use personalised variables in marketing copy, they should largely stick to names, and not use them as crutches in weak efforts to come across as familiar.

Another option that’s even more disastrous in prospect is the sending of incorrectly sending personalised messages to the wrong people — such as sending wedding congratulations to people who aren’t getting married and don’t particularly like being reminded that they’re unattached (you can read about this incident at Campaign Monitor).

And then there’s the casual use of personalised elements in automated social media messages. The last decade has made it clear that setting up responses to dynamically insert names is a terrible idea. Conversational commerce is most effective when it’s handled live: with automation, it only takes one person to change their name to something incendiary or offensive…

It’s all about the implementation

Overall, then, the clear conclusion to the titular question is that yes, personalisation is still an important feature for digital businesses — but it has to be implemented correctly. The point should be to make the user experience better, leading customers to find it markedly easier to identify relevant products and glean insight suited to their preferences.

Simply repeating someone’s name in an email is nothing more than a parlour trick that they won’t care about, so don’t fall into the trap of shallow personalisation. Make it meaningful, or don’t bother implementing it at all.

Author

Rodney Laws is Editor at Ecommerce Platforms

Image credit: Pixabay

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