Personalization is often confused for relevance. While both are important, smart marketers distinguish the two and how they can use them to improve marketing response.

  • Personalization requires specific data. Relevance requires customer insights.
  • Personalization is the use of customer contact information in marketing. Relevance is content that is meaningful to the consumer that receives marketing.
  • Personalization is easy (with good data) and is often well executed, particularly in email and direct mail. Relevance is an exception to the rule.

Because personalization is easier than relevance, too many brands take the first step to include name and member number in an email, but stop short, assuming that personalization is the same as relevance. Too many brands still send all messages to all customers, hoping that this riffle shot approach will get some relevant content to some portion of its audience at some point in time. The result is lower marketing response and less customer engagement.

The Good and the Bad 

Amazon collects mountains of data on every customer, and they are one of the few brands where consumers never seem to mind. The reason, of course, is that they use the data in a way that are useful (aka relevant) for customers as well as for the business. The email below is on many examples of Amazon using their data to get customers more of what they want.

In contrast, below is an email sent from Marriott and The Children’s Place to a single, male in our office with no children. No doubt, it’s personalized. No doubt, it’s from a brand that he interacts with, but it certainly isn’t relevant. 

Stopping Short with Email

Most brands stop short of any real attempt at relevance and even fewer try to push relevance into channels other than email. Most of the conversation around personalization and relevance centers on email, but they have applications well beyond. 

Customer Service: Service relies on personalization to provide the “personal touch.” But, which leads to a more satisfied customer – a relevant answer to a problem via a knowledge base search or auto-generated email, or a tier one sales rep that can’t answer your question, but can look up your account and call you by name? 

Social: Social is inherently about community and relationships, yet most companies today use Facebook simply as a channel to mass deliver messages. For most brands, relevance is an offline response to an individual’s online question or complaint. Brands like Trip Advisor and Amazon are going beyond a single Facebook tab or Twitter page to bring relevance to social with options to view friends’ wish lists and trip recommendations. 

Mobile: Mobile has the benefit of customers self-selecting into relevant content via check ins, promotional sign up and more. However, similar to email, marketers need to be careful to not assume that opt-in to mobile means a customer wants all your news. Preference data is an easy way to know what information want to receive without the burden of customer insights – but marketers have to be willing restrain themselves to actually use them to target messages rather than sending all messages to all customers. 

The Message: Relevance isn’t defined by the decision management team or the creative brief. It’s defined by the customer. The strategy has to push beyond data to consider the customer’s perspective. A lapsed customer from a card marketer’s perspective (i.e., 12 months no purchase) is not the same thing as from the customer’s perspective (who forgot about the brand within 2 months of not shopping there.) 

Consumers know we collect their data, and they are right to get frustrated when marketers get lazy and don’t use those insights to create a personal, relevant (whether or not its personalized) conversation. The upside to relevance is not only happier customers and higher response rates, but also long-term engagement and brand trust. Relevance is worth investing in now, ahead of the crowd.

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