Don’t Let Irrelevant Messaging Cause Your Customers to Leave. Learn What ULTA Is Doing.


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“…It’s worrying how many consumers feel misunderstood and [feel] that brands aren’t listening to them.”

These are the thoughts of Jeremy King, CEO of Attest, regarding his company’s consumer study, which revealed that over a third of UK consumers feel ‘misunderstood’ by brands. This could be why, according to Teradata, nearly all (90%) of marketers now believe individualized messaging is the future of marketing moving forward, “beyond segmentation to true one-to-one personalization.

If you don’t already have voice of consumer-driven relevancy at the top of your marketing priority list consider this; in a study by Janrain and Blue Research  it was noted that 94% of survey respondents took at least one of these actions in response to irrelevant messaging:

  • Automatically deleted the emails (68%);
  • Unsubscribed from emails (54%);
  • Categorized emails as “junk” or “spam” (45%);
  • Became less likely to buy products (29%);
  • Visited the website less frequently (13%); and
  • Never visited the website again (10%).

The study also found that the irritation threshold is now so low that it takes only a few mistakes to turn off consumers: almost half said they automatically delete emails or categorize them as “junk” after being mis-targeted twice; 38% unsubscribe after receiving two mis-targeted emails.

One brand that has re-evaluated how they personalize the customer experience to ensure relevance is  beauty retailer, ULTA, which has more than 16 million active loyalty members. And, Fortune recently selected ULTA’s CEO, Mary Dillon as one of the most powerful women for 2016.

One of the main reasons ULTA has grown so quickly was the realization that because their products are available through multiple channels, their differentiating factor had to be their consumer experience. To facilitate their omnichannel personalization strategies, they leveraged technology in a campaign they named “connected beauty,” which integrates in-store, mobile, social, online and app experiences. “Our concept of connected beauty is really about making sure that we connect with our guests across all touch-points in the same way,” says Diane Randolph, CIO at ULTA Beauty.

And according to Lockie Antonopoulos, IT director of mobility at ULTA Beauty, “Technology is giving ULTA the opportunity to strive toward its goals. By giving information at a quicker pace to both our executive team and our store associates, they are able to react in a more timely manner.”

Technology allows ULTA customers to get real-time inventory for their local store so they know whether their chosen product is available before they arrive. Consultants can use tablets in-store to access customer information such as shopping history, previous purchases, loyalty point balances, and previous loyalty program redemptions. “We’re thinking about the loyalty experience every day…We then attach the info we get from the [in store] consultation to our loyalty program, which enables further personalization,” Antonopoulos stated.

ULTA’s CMO Dave Kimbell goes on to state, “We’re trying to innovate to meet her needs and get ahead of her expectations to personalize the experience whenever she wants it in the store, online or on an app. It’s critical to our competitive success because that’s how she wants to shop and other retailers that are focused on one or the other can’t do that.”


1. Irrelevant marketing now has unprecedented consequences. It has become a reason to sever ties with a brand. If consumers feel their preferences aren’t requested or respected, they see little reason to buy from that brand, given the many other choices.

2. True relevancy is based on an omnichannel strategy which prioritizes getting to know your customer’s individual preferences.

3. Understand how your customer shops your brand and their preferred touchpoints. Build ways to connect these touchpoints so no matter how they engage, they are getting relevance and consistency.

Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


  1. Ernan, this is a great article. The numbers from Teradata on 90% of marketers believing that one to one messaging is the way of the future really stood out to me. Applied to customer service messaging this really speaks to the importance of approaching automation and “canned responses” very carefully. I also think AI shows a lot of promise here.

  2. Jeremy,
    Thanks for your feedback.
    The blend of AI, big data and Human Data is the way to go to ensure required levels of personalization and authenticity.

  3. Hi Ernan: consumers possess the ability to dodge communication that they don’t want or need at the time. I quickly pitch junk mail delivered to my home. I turn off or skip ads I don’t need to see when they are served up online. I bypass magazine ads that don’t apply to me, and I mute TV ads that I find silly or sophomoric. These are only a few ways to respond to ads and messages that aren’t useful to me at the moment. I’m curious about the finding that 29% of respondents reported being ‘less likely to buy.’ How does this play out? Do people actually not buy? Permanently? I’m not sure. This is only anecdotal, but rarely, if ever, have messages caused me to boycott a company or a product. No animosity – mostly, when I don’t need to see a message, I simply don’t pay attention to it.

    So I’m not surprised by the findings regarding how people respond to email. But I question that the outreach should be termed mistakes, as in “it takes only a few mistakes to turn off consumers.” Any broadcast outreach, such as email, risks delivering unneeded – even unwelcome messages to prospects. If companies are unwilling or unable to sustain that risk, they shouldn’t engage in the tactic.

    That doesn’t obviate the need to be circumspect about targeting, or to craft excellent communications, but establishing a goal of zero customer irritation seems impractical and probably unachievable.

  4. Andrew,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Our VoC research among Millennials has found two trends; their irritation threshold is lower and their expectation for personalization is much higher.
    Plus, they have many more high quality alternatives than prior generations.

    Therefore, it takes little to get them to switch.
    Plus, they can do so with the expectation that there will likely be a better alternative in terms of a brand more willing to engage and nurture the relationship.


  5. Hi Ernan: your article didn’t mention Millennials, so I interpreted your statements to include all consumers.

    I’m curious about your VoC research as it pertains to ‘irritation threshold’ and ‘expectation for personalization.’ These seem difficult not only to define, but to establish measurable variables. If you have any background about your research that you could share, that would be great.

  6. Hi Andrew,
    Our Forbes article should be helpful in addressing your question.
    It is titled, CMOs, Here’s Why You Should Care About Explicit Data.
    Per our new VoC research findings, Millennials in particular, expect to control experiences they have with brands via their detailed and explicit preferences.
    The evolution from implicit data to explicit preference-driven data has significant implications for BtoB and BtoC marketers.


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