Personalisation: more than just a [first_name]

We were recently invited to a digital agency meet-up hosted by Rackspace on the subject of Big Data which Dave and Laura attended. Rackspace posed a question to the room about achieving effective personalisation with today’s tools and tech. A discussion was sparked on how it’s more than the tools, it’s knowing how to use them, and ultimately came back to having a solid data strategy. This discussion continued in our office the next day and it got me thinking about my own experience with Rackspace as a customer, as well as other personalised experiences I have seen done well.

My Rackspace experience

Having been a Rackspace partner, customer and supplier in the past, the one thing that sticks in my memory is that old adage of you get what you pay for – and more with Rackspace. Sure, they are not the cheapest in the market, and whilst their product is great, their service is really something that sticks in the memory. It’s not just the typical great service surrounding products and client assistance, it’s that relationship that their team works hard to build.

When I spoke to my Rackspace accounts team, or the tech support teams, it was like we had known each other for years. Always friendly and looking to solve problems and turn them into winning situations for both of us. So when they posed the question at the event about personalisation, I felt that this is something they already do really well. They make their existing clients, partners and suppliers feel special. They operate on a personal level.

So when we talk about personalisation, and how we do this well, it is less about tools and systems for me, it is about creating that one on one conversation, that special relationship and intimate experience.

Personalisation: more than just a [first name]

How to achieve real personalisation

A lot of brands think a personalised approach is all about a brand telling them how great the brand is and why they should be working with them, then littering this obviously one sided sales patter with personal details. Adding my name, company and location is not personalisation to me, it is interjecting data. Which when done badly, to me anyway, smacks of an impersonal and very run of the mill experience.

I have given talks to degree students on the mystical art of what makes an engaging campaign, and when asked about personalised campaigns, I always take them to a situation we should all have some experience of, good or bad – a first date. A first date’s primary objective is to get a second date. Sure, if you would like one. But we don’t know if we would really like one unless we know more about that person opposite us. And we will only ever know more if we ask the right questions and listen to what they say. Really listen. If we listen to them, then the next thing we can say should show we have been listening, and thus be relevant and interesting. Hopefully. If we get on, then we should agree to a second date.

Now I haven’t been in the dating game for a while, but I do love to see this well executed personalised approach in marketing I see. When I explain this to clients, usually the answer is, “But the data we have only has their basic information.” To gain that level of data, you have to make them feel special and ask the right questions. For instance, if we look at a pet food brand, and they want to come to me to sell me pet food, but the data they have on me only tells them my name, gender, location and that I have at least one pet, of some description, then there are obviously questions that need answering from a brand perspective.

Most brands would just ask questions with the promise of some free pet food for my answers. But, that is not, in my eyes, an engaging experience. On a first date, I would never say to the woman opposite me, “Tell me about yourself and I’ll give you a bottle of wine!” I may buy a bottle anyway, but not as a reward. It’s how you present the situation. Like most people, when you get me going, I love to talk about myself if I am honest. Most people do. Especially if it is about something they have a passion in.

Sure, you have to start with a question – “So, Jamie, tell me about your pets, how many do you have?”

A simple question that is non invasive, that shows you are interested and is designed to give a little insight. They may say 5, in which case we can make a lovely comment like, “Wow, you have a small zoo to keep. You really love your animals to dedicate that much time to your extended family. So tell us what their names are…”

This illustrates we have asked, they have answered and then we have listened. It is then about keeping that conversation going. From this point we need to keep the conversation short so we end it whilst they are still engaged, leaving the memory as an engaging experience, but at the same time learn something. Then give them something at the end. This is our ‘paying for the meal’ bit – as a recipient we subconsciously learn that if we engage with this brand, not only do they listen, but they get something from it.

What is now vital is to follow this through. With no promise, we should then send them something else. Something personalised. In this instance it could be a sample of our pet food for each of their pets, with each packet labelled with the name of each pet.

This is a brand that I want to engage with. And will.