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Impersonal Communication Annoys Your Customers, Use Contextual Personalization Instead

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Consider the following email marketing statistics from a recent consumer research study of British consumers:

  • The average person's inbox has 260 unopened emails, 56% of which are from brands.
  • 60% of those people who never open brand emails admitted they would if the subject line were personalized.

The above facts tell us that consumers find impersonal marketing communications—let's call it "brand spam"—irrelevant as well as annoying.

Often, unread emails from brands are those the consumer initially elected to receive, a process we call "self-selecting." Self-selecting is defined as ignoring emails originally requested but no longer relevant by the time they reach the individual's inbox.

The solution to eliminating brand spam is to provide greater context for improved personalization. At Webtrends, we call this "contextual personalization."

Is Your Website Welcoming?


Some marketers believe that one-to-one personalized email is a Holy Grail, but you can engage with your customers on a different level in other areas. Your website, for example.

Do you provide a different experience to registered users compared to those who are unknown? For example, show a small banner saying, "Welcome back, (insert name)" to returning visitors.

Also, consider website personalization and social interaction to get closer to consumers through a less formal approach.

Applying Insights to Connect With Consumers

Until now, personalization has largely involved using a combination of known profile information and historical data.

What's been missing is the ability to combine that valuable data with real-time information, such as what devices customers use, their location, their stage in the buying cycle, even the weather. But contextual personalization does just that.

Contextual personalization applies insights from historical and real-time data to connect with consumers in rich and engaging ways.

The deep, real-time analysis of customer behavior makes brands better-equipped to provide interesting and relevant experiences, taking into account the customers' needs at the moment. Brands can give customers what they want, how they want it, when they want it, and where they want it.

The ever-increasing proliferation of smartphones and tablets, combined with powerful back-end software technology solutions more widely implemented, means brands now can create distinctly personalized, relevant connections with target audiences.

What Time Is It?

Context can be extended to the time of day, too.

For instance, people who browse websites on the subway on their way to work may buy something low-cost but are unlikely to take the plunge on higher-priced items, such as stereo equipment or televisions. So, for example, at lunch, you may send a text offering free shipping to customers after they viewed a set of wireless speakers that morning.

In the case of higher-ticket items, an email sent in the evening (when a customer is likely at home) may encourage higher-priced purchases. That is especially true if they revisit your website from their PC to read more about the TV they were exploring via their mobile device earlier in the day. A simple website banner asking whether they'd like to see the last page they visited earlier in the day gives a shortcut that might yield a sale.

Putting It All Together

Let's consider a specific example that shows how this is all ties together.

Emily enjoys shopping for shoes online and in the store, where she uses her loyalty card. On one of her favorite shoe websites, she sees a style she'd like to add to her shoe collection.

Modern advertising technology software lets you align what she's looked at previously with her current online behavior, in combination with external data (such as geo-location and weather). That makes it possible to then tailor her experience by serving pages that reflect her current, sunny, weather in Los Angeles by recommending summer sandals. Alternatively, if she were in Seattle, where it's raining, you might instead show her pages detailing boots.

Even if Emily doesn't put anything in her online cart, you've already captured that historical and real-time data. A personalized email can be sent within minutes offering a deal on the products she just looked at, with perhaps a time-sensitive incentive to purchase.

We can extend this example even further by incorporating beacon technology alongside contextual personalization to trigger an "offer" when Emily is walking by one of her favorite shoe stores. She receives a text alert that the shoes she recently browsed online are in stock, in her size and at that store.

Contextual personalization goes well beyond email. Email, appropriately personalized with relevance, is just a part of the overall picture.

* * *

If you're doing what was mentioned in this article, you can considerably lessen the odds of your communications becoming brand spam.

Consider these numbers from our research, undertaken for Webtrends by OnePoll earlier this year: Of the 65% of people who say they open emails from brands, 82% are more likely to do so if the subject line contains information personalized to them.

Perhaps even more promising, of the 20% who say they never open any emails from brands, 60% say they would be more likely to if those emails were personalized. Those encouraging figures speak to what contextual personalization is all about.


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Kathy Stromberg is vice-president of marketing at Webtrends.

LinkedIn: Kathy Stromberg

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  • by Katherine Tue Apr 14, 2015 via web

    Great article Stephanie. Contextual personalization definitely goes beyond email and is going to go hand in hand with the growing need for marketers to embrace and understand omnichannel marketing. You mentioned the proliferation of mobile devices – this is key. Our customers demand relevant information at their fingertips, and if they can’t access it (or we can’t provide it to them) whenever they want and wherever they are, we’ll be the ones losing relevance. I would add that with the growth of mobile advertising (especially mobile search) smartphones are bringing back call conversions as a key metric in measuring the success of marketing campaigns and driving sales.

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