How do you personalize without being creepy?

Can businesses predict what customers really want?

Anyone who has received an unsolicited, personalized e-mail or viewed a personalized ad recommendation on their social media timeline or have been followed endlessly by a personalized advertisement of a product they simply viewed before, will know that “creepy feeling” that someone out there is watching!

So, do customers want what businesses think they want?

Let’s see some basic things that an average customer really wants.

Show me recommendations I wouldn’t have thought of.

One of the most popular personalization techniques is to remind shoppers of items they browsed but didn’t purchase. Using a common digital-marketing feature called retargeting, these reminders appear as ads on other websites the shopper visits or are delivered via email. Although an established technique, it is one with great potential for missteps and can easily come off as creepy or annoying if not executed thoughtfully. Shoppers don’t want to be constantly reminded of products they’ve already bought or searched for, especially if the ads appear either too soon, too frequently, or too late in the process.

“With any retargeting, adjust the frequency and cap the impressions.”

To provide something a customer might be interested in, companies need to use more sophisticated recommendation algorithms to offer complementary products or services instead of just the things the shopper has already browsed or bought.

Finally, with any retargeting message, it’s important to observe who responds and who doesn’t, adjust the frequency accordingly, and cap the number of impressions for everyone, especially those who never respond—continuing to retarget these shoppers will only be annoying.

Talk to me now, I’m in shopping mode.

When to send a message is just as important as what it says. Figuring that out requires taking a close look at behaviors, patterns, and habits.

A clothing retailer for example should send messages to shoppers who have not completed their purchase either later in the day or exactly a week later. This will keep the interest going.

Getting the timing wrong virtually eliminates the chance for a purchase while potentially annoying the customer. Sending messages for a new equipment to a customer who has already moved houses one month ago would mean a retargeting investment gone waste.

Remind me of stuff that I want to know.

A highly effective way to become relevant to shoppers is through tracking specific events and circumstances they are likely to want to know about. This might take the form of a reminder when someone may be running out of an item purchased earlier, when a desired item is back in stock or on sale, or when a new style is launched for a product or category the shopper has repeatedly bought.

Retailers, however, should be careful to provide shoppers with a trigger for the targeted message.

Recognize me, no matter where I am.

Consumers expect retailers to connect digital messages with their offline experiences. For many organizations, this is particularly challenging, because it requires collaboration between disparate areas of the organization, such as store operations, event managers, PR, digital marketing, and analytics. Yet if done effectively, communications that seamlessly straddle both online and offline experiences—and provide real value—can make a customer feel a retailer really knows them.

When cross-channel communication involves using information that customers have not actively provided, retailers should try to supply information that consumers will find truly valuable. Food Delivery Apps should note that for a customer who places an order for “Pick-up” should only show recommendations based on location radius in order to ensure the food doesn’t get cold by the time the customer reaches the restaurant.

Give me value that means something to me.

Loyalty programs and direct-purchase information can tell retailers what types of products an individual customer buys, how often he or she buys them, when they buy, and what product categories they never purchase. Many companies, however, fail to take full advantage of this information to personalize their discounts and communications to their loyal customers. Customer offers are an important way to build customer loyalty and prevent churn. Personalizing them (and often gamifying the experience) is a highly effective way to not only inspire purchases but also encourage new buying behaviors.

In conclusion, the best way to avoid creepiness is to bring in empathy when designing personalization.

To truly build empathy for customers, companies must understand their diverse attitudes, shopping occasions, and need states and build them into an attitudinal segmentation. Such attitudinal segmentation then needs to be layered onto the customer database in order for companies to be able to act on it to deliver on relevant and personalized messaging. This is a step many marketers miss.

Additionally, companies should be crafting their customer analytics and communications based on the customer’s journey (the set of interactions a customer has with a brand to accomplish a task).

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Kiran Borkar

Having been part of the Internet Industry since the late Nineties, he believes Nostradamus goofed up by not predicting how the World Wide Web would change the world.

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