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Don't be so personal with your digital marketing!

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 11, 2013
You know all that time, effort and money you’ve been putting into personalized marketing campaigns? Well, it turns out that you might have been wasting it for the simple reason that your organization lacks the data skills needed to understand the customers you’re trying to get personal with!

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You know all that time, effort and money you’ve been putting into personalized marketing campaigns?

Well, it turns out that you might have been wasting it for the simple reason that your organization lacks the data skills needed to understand the customers you’re trying to get personal with!

A new study from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)* released today finds a disconnect between marketing strategy and what is really influencing consumers.

And the bad news is: almost half of marketing executives surveyed (45%) indicated that they lack the capacity for analyzing and acting upon “Big Data.”

And while it might seen therefore to be a sensible plan to invest in more data management to support your digital marketing, half of those polled reckons there’s just no budget for that.

The study goes on to note:

  • Only 24% always use data for actionable insight.
  • Marketers’ limited competency in data analysis is cited by 45% of executives as a major obstacle to implementing more effective strategies.
  • Only 27% of the marketing executives surveyed said they always integrate customer data from different sources into a centralized customer database.


For CMOs, personalization, based on user profile rather than data, remains the second most popular marketing strategy. But the bad news is that the consumer has caught on to your cunning plans and frankly isn’t impressed.

The study finds that:

  • 70% of consumers believe attempts at personalization are superficial.
  • 63% of consumers claim that they have grown numb to such personal approaches.
  • 33% of consumers citing superficial personalization as one of their top annoyances.

There’s an important distinction here to be drawn between personalized and customized.

The EIU explains:

Whereas personalization is often based on user attributes, customization puts customers in control, giving them individualized experiences. Consumer preference is highest for customized product recommendation.

One or two other things caught my eye. Following on from the debate on diginomica in recent weeks about the validity of email as a marketing channel – see Phil Wainewright and Dennis Howlett’s takes on that -, the EIU study confirms our suspicions that CMOs are now seriously under-estimating the continued influence of email.

Consumers in this study ranked email as the most important channel for both pre-purchase decision and post-purchase (37% and 52% respectively).

So why are marketing budgets so heavily skewed towards spending money on company websites? Especially as it also appears that marketing execs agree email is more important?

The report notes:

For an initial introduction to a product, consumers prefer e-mail (37% of respondents) followed by printed catalogues (35%) and personal referrals (33%). Only about one in five consumers say they prefer social media sites and blogs to make purchase assessments or decisions. E-mail is also a preferred channel for post-purchase follow-up, with 52% of consumers citing it as one of their top three preferences.

While executives rank understanding of best practices in e-mail delivery at a relatively high 32%, budgets are still skewed in favor of company websites over e-mail.


Mind you, that’s not the only indicator that marketing is out of synch with consumers.

Marketing execs in the EIU study cite social media as a top 3 key performance indicator, behind sales and response rates. Consumers like it for promotions, but overall rank it as having the least influence on their side of the purchasing cycle.

Alex Lustberg, CMO of Lyris – which funded the research - sums up the dilemma: “We have entered a new era of digital marketing that requires a smarter and more agile approach to engaging with and influencing today’s consumer. Yet the report found several important gaps between what marketers think their customers value, and what they really care about.”

Our verdict

So what to do, what to do? Well first up you clearly need to invest in more data management skills. You just can’t get away from that one. Investing in more and more technologies to assists in accumulating and slicing and dicing data is all good and well, but we’re going to be back to that hoary old cliché of the data deluge unless we actively know what to do with all this stuff.

Here of course we do run into a cultural issue – or one of professional pride perhaps?

Marketing is a creative thing, surely? It’s about inspiration and perspiration and imagination and big ideas; it’s not about number crunching and science, is it?

Well, unfortunately it’s a bit of both now. We can’t all be Don Draper. (Yes, yes, I know that’s advertising, but you catch my drift?).

According to the EIU, data analysis to extract predictive findings from “Big Data” is the most necessary skill for marketers (37% of respondents), which is a significant increase from the 17% who said this was true five years ago.

Marketing executives also need to get behind customization rather than personalization as a strategy.

There are other signs of progress on this front. Five years ago, according to EIU research, the top priority for marketers was to personalize messages to consumers followed some way behind by presenting individualized offers. In 2013, those two have flipped and customized offers are now seen as more important.

Mind you, in the time it’s taken me to write this, I’ve had a personalized email from Sky TV inviting me to take up a free trial – in a non-cabled up area where Sky dishes are not permitted.

Oh and a personalized invitation based for a free consultation on over sixties health care insurance – as I’m in my forties I'm taking that very personally, but not in a good way!

There’s still a long way to go folks.


*The EIU research was based on two distinct surveys: one with responses from 409 consumers and the other from 257 marketing executives (CMO & VP of marketing) of consumer product companies from the United States and United Kingdom across six key consumer products industries, including:-clothing, banking, travel, media, entertainment and automotive.

All graphics copyright: The Economist Intelligence Unit

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