Ashton Media
Marketing & Customer Experience Hub

Do I Know You? When Personalisation Goes Wrong

When personalisation goes wrong

Last week, I spotted an old work colleague at a conference. We hadn’t seen each other for years but had always gotten on very well; which is why, when it became clear that the instant recognition wasn’t mutual, I felt a distinct twinge of disappointment. Not only did he not remember my name- he thought I was someone else.

The incident reminded me of that famous Dale Carnegie quote: “The sweetest sound to anyone’s ear, no matter what language it’s in, is their name”1. Why? Because, quite simply, we remember the things we find interesting. When you forget someone’s name, for whatever reason, you’re sending the message that they weren’t worth remembering- and no matter how genuine the mistake might be, it will invariably cause bad feeling, to a greater or lesser degree.

When personalisation goes wrong

Remembering little details about a person can have a huge impact on the trajectory of a conversation in face to face communications; but in the digital world, where the person you’re speaking to can simply switch off before you have a chance to apologise, it can make or break a relationship. Getting details wrong can be even worse.

Personalisation is the current strategy du jour for marketers – which means learning about your customers’ likes and dislikes and then using them to create more exciting, meaningful experiences. But when we get those details wrong or assume too much too soon (for example, when a 30-year-old female colleague was recently inundated with adverts for baby clothes and anti-aging treatments), we can do more harm than good.

Here are three simple ways to avoid getting personalisation wrong:

1) Have good intentions.

Whenever you’re gathering data about a customer, think about why you need it and how you can use it to help them. If you constantly use ‘being helpful’ as a way to rationalise your use of customer data, you’re unlikely to over-step the mark or get it wrong. As Sitecore’s favourite futurologist and digital expert, Dietmar Dahmen, says “Big Brother: NO. Big Service: YES”.

2) Check, check and check again.

With so much data at their fingertips, from so many different sources, many marketers put ‘cross-referencing customer data’ into the ‘too hard’ basket. The obvious solution to this problem is to achieve a ‘one customer view’, by using a single platform for all marketing channels; but, as a short-term solution, ensure that personalisation where the subject matter could be perceived to be sensitive (marriage, births, deaths etc) is prioritised and cross-referenced against at least two different data sources.

3) History is the best teacher.

Ultimately, the key to accurate and relevant personalisation is genuinely knowing your customer. This means accurate persona-based segmenting based on every interaction- from their most recent page view to qualitative demographic information they may have provided several months ago in a questionnaire. The more extensive their profile data becomes, the more likely it is that your interactions with them will be accurate- because you’ve spent more time learning about their preferences before leaping in with a message that may or may not be relevant.

Often the simplest guide to getting online personalisation right is by comparing it to the real-life equivalent. Are you being overly communicative? Asking for some sort of commitment? Broaching a personal subject? If so, get your facts straight- or avoid altogether.

For more tips on getting personalisation right, download our recent whitepaper, based on an interview with Dietmar Dahmen: Who’s Afraid of Big Data? The Ethical Guide to Personalisation.

1Relationship Is Still the Most Important Element,  Dale Carnegie Blog, 24 June 2014:

Robert Holliday - VP Enablement Service - Greater Asia, Sitecore About Robert Holliday - VP Enablement Service - Greater Asia, Sitecore
As VP Enablement Service - Greater Asia at Sitecore, Robert is charged with driving strategy in collaboration with the local senior management teams responsible for Sales, Marketing, Customers and Alliances. Robert works closely with corporate and regional offices to implement and localise the global strategy to grow the business and ensure customer success with Sitecore's leading customer engagement platform.