Ali White, PR and Marketing Director

Something the recent departure of Jeff Bezos from Amazon brought into the public’s consciousness is how influential Bezos’ data centric approach to business development and marketing was in the monumental growth of Amazon over the last decade. A true pioneer of personalisation, Amazon (steered by Bezos) established that the most valuable action it could take to establish itself as the first-choice retailer was to collect, track and analyse as much data as possible about its customers, and then work backwards with its service offering. This has expanded into a process which is now capable of mapping where the market is heading, based on consumer shopping habits, and has enabled Amazon to innovate accordingly.

While personalisation, informed by data collection, wasn’t anything new in terms of marketing, the “Amazon effect” on the concept, took the volume of data tracking and personalised touch points to a whole new level. Where previously an analogue experience of personalisation marketing would be returning to your car in a local supermarket to find a circus or fun-fair flyer under the window wiper, now the experience is much higher tech. For almost every interaction we have with a brand or product online, we anticipate being marketed to as a result. Every item added to a virtual shopping basket will now guarantee a triggered email, every link opened on social media will result in seeing an advert for that same brand or business for the next few weeks at least, every binge-watch streamed will result in recommendations of a similar ilk.

While, from a marketer’s perspective, having the brand or product in the right place, at the right time, in the right format to engage the target consumer is mission accomplished, the rapid increase of personalised marketing is now at risk of crossing the threshold of intrusion. As consumers, the most annoyed we could be with the person distributing circus and fun-fair flyers was the need to find a home for said flyer before going about our business, the data that the “marketeer” had discerned about you was as simple as – if you are shopping locally, you likely live locally, and therefore would be interested in attending a local event – which is largely trivial.

However, as we continue to evolve into digital consumers, wilfully providing more data and deeper insights to those we interact with than ever before, there is a point where the interaction between consumer and brand can start to feel invasive. In my experience, early on in my pregnancy, every time I opened an app, went to send an email or tried to shop for something, I was bombarded with suggestions and recommendations tailored for this “new demographic” I had joined. Granted I had, of course, searched for things, sought out information and looked at a few products in order to generate this response, but the response by brands, social media algorithms and advertisers to that digital behaviour of mine was completely overwhelming. In the end I hid, deleted, unfollowed, unsubscribed and generally removed as much of it as possible in order to give myself some breathing room to properly process the experience and the transition #IRL first, before feeling ready to be marketed to about it.

And it seems I’m not alone, the need to set boundaries between consumer and marketer is growing in popularity. The recent “thoughtfulness” movement pioneered by Bloom and Wild in 2020 sees brands offering the option to specifically opt-out of Mother’s Day marketing material, acknowledging that the day may be a sensitive time for some people.

A favourite quote of mine is from philosopher Henry David Theoreau, “the cost of anything is the amount of life you are willing to exchange for it” which can be applied to most situations and is a fantastic yard stick for making decisions. For example – do I hate this wallpaper enough to change it? (probably) and am I invested enough in this series to stay awake for another episode? (probably not), but it can also be applied here if you replace “life” with “data”.

Although it is our own consumer behaviour that fuels the rise of excessive personalisation in marketing, the tide does appear to be turning towards the need to establish healthy boundaries in what we are willing to share and what we aren’t. A 2018 study by InMoment found that 75% of consumers surveyed found the personalization to be a bit creepy. This is something that brands and businesses should consider when establishing their personality, purpose and vision as it will only become more of a differentiator in the future.

Personalisation stops being personal when it doesn’t extend to investing in and understanding the attitudes of the customer, and what a brand’s core demographic might consider too much of an intrusion on their life. The key to understanding where the boundaries are, is to create an ever-evolving picture of your consumer and keep it centrally in mind when devising personalisation approaches. A brands audience map should be an always changing, and always relevant, aspect of its marketing plan, that never fails to take into account how attitudes might be shifting.

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