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The personalisation revolution still hasn't arrived

About a year ago it was predicted that we’d see a significant shift away from traditional mass advertising to more personalised digital channels. At the same time, marketing’s failures to adopt personalisation were being lambasted at every opportunity. 12 months on, many marketers appear to have leapt aboard the personalisation bandwagon and you can’t move for tips on how to deliver personalised experiences for every customer.

Yet most of the so-called ‘personalised’ digital marketing campaigns that I see are labouring under a misnomer. They remain focused on splitting users into demographics according to data. The clusters may have become smaller, but consumers are still being segmented and essentially receiving the same content and messages as everyone else who may have browsed the same website or purchased a certain product. If you employed a personal shopper, you would expect their suggestions to be tailored to your individual tastes – not the preferences of twenty other people who once tried on the same jacket that you’re wearing.

I’d argue that what we’re seeing today is the emergence of a tiered system of personalisation. At the pinnacle is what we at EchoMany consider ‘true’ personalisation, meaningful, one-to-one engagement that delivers a unique, real-time experience for each customer.

The bottom tier is data-driven, automated grouping of consumers, broad-brush and relied on by many. There has been great progress with this ‘contextualisation’ in recent years, but it still amounts to using demographic and behavioural data to ‘best guess’ a user’s interests. With the amount of data available today, this is the bare minimum that marketers should be delivering.

Occupying the space between the two tiers is what Gartner has coined ‘personification’, which takes this data-driven approach and applies tried and tested advertising personas. This digital personification is often mislabelled as personalisation, but brands are kidding themselves if they believe this amounts to true one-to-one engagement.

That said, I see this application of personas to automated grouping as a good sign. It shows that the industry understands that data alone won’t deliver an engaging campaign and a human element is required. But I implore marketers not to stop there – you have to go further if you’re serious about delivering truly personalised digital engagement.

Social is by far the most natural channel for personalisation and in my opinion will be the core focus for many brands seeking personalised marketing in the near future. Recent research revealed that there are 200,000 more Facebook posts per minute than Google searches and social channels provide brands with a direct link to the consumer’s pocket. One-to-one conversations are easily facilitated with the most vocal, valued and dedicated customers and fans, who regularly engage over social media. But it will be video content, which connects more emotionally than any other medium, that will allow these personalised conversations to be scaled. It’s expected that in 2016, the average amount of time people spend consuming online video each day will increase by nearly 20 per cent. Investing in video clearly makes sense.

Yet brands continue to spend budget on digital video content, only for assets to end up on search-driven YouTube. There’s a reason why Twitter has already invested heavily in video delivery and why Facebook accounts for over eight billion video views a day – consumers are more likely to engage with content that their friends have watched already. The real next step for both video and personalisation lies on social media, where brands can harness technology to deliver content directly to users. This content is truly personal and received as a real-time response to tweets or Facebook posts – not a website banner suggestion based on your search history.

Today’s marketers have started to realise that the consumer defines their own identity and that people are just too complex to be separated into groups. Personification injects a human element into big data segmentation and is certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t deliver the one-to-one experiences the industry was calling for at the start of 2015 and certainly shouldn’t be labelled personalisation. True, one-to-one engagement is the gold standard that all brands should be aiming for, and it will be conversational social platforms and compelling video content – not more mountains of data – that progresses personalisation.

Tim Redgate is the creator of EchoMany