Establishing customer relevance keeps us on our toes – and our customers’ toes, too


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As I’ll explain in a moment, I have only one set of toes.

I highly suspect that that’s true of most of your customers, as well. What leads to this important personal revelation is a study just released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, relevant to those of us interested in, yes, customer relevance.

Though the study is specific to search results and to targeted internet ads (those based on user searches and online activity), it opens a subject related to consumer relevance in marketing in general. Yes, the survey covers the usual privacy concerns: “73% of search users are not comfortable with search engines collecting user information to personalize search results because they see it as an invasion of their privacy.” And 68% oppose targeted online advertising for the same reason. But, as discussed by my colleague Phaedra Hise in “The Relevance Resolution…Finally?,” the cover story of our current issue, the traditional “say-do gap” that afflicts survey results in general is often alive and well when it comes to answers about sharing information to receive relevant communications.

The more interesting issue raised in the survey comes from this finding: “65% of search engine users say that search engines keeping track of their searches and using the information to personalize their future results is a bad thing because it limits the information they get online and what results they see….” No similar stat relating to views of targeted advertising is reported, and – agreed – proactive search is different from passive ad display in terms of the consumers’ goals and expectations. Yet, search is engagement and dialogue with the search engine, with echoes of the engagement and dialogue we seek with our best customers: “I tell you a bit about myself and you respond with what best helps me.” Given that, I wonder if consumers receiving our targeted, relevant offers ever feel that somehow we’re leaving them in the dark about other possibilities.

Of course, I doubt that that’s a conscious thought in consumers’ minds. Still, the idea that targeted, customer-specific offers and communications could be missing the mark by being too specific is something to consider, with these thoughts in mind:

1. Beware “hyper-relevance.” I’ve talked before about my experience buying baby food at the grocery during a holiday food drive, and later receiving offers for other baby products – based solely on a couple of purchases. Construct communications that leverage patterns and not incidents. A purchase, a website visit, a search or an ad click might mean true interest, but it also might mean a user with gift purchases in mind, or a family member who’s using someone else’s primary account.

2. Keep your definition of relevant communications both broad and specific. An airline that knows that I travel to a certain city regularly can prioritize pertinent travel deals – perhaps a partnership with a restaurant chain with locations in that city. That’s specific. More broadly, the airline can either surmise or simply ask if my regular travel is on business, and deliver offers that appeal to any road warrior (a partnership with a home security service maybe?).

3. Do show off your other offers, even though they might not seem immediately relevant to the target audience. Ranging the offers in appropriate ways can deflect the potential “you’re not showing me everything I might be interested in” effect identified by Pew Internet & American Life Project. But it can also deflect the “you know everything about me” effect that comes from using too-specific information. Besides, you will learn more about your customers from which of the “not-so-relevant” offers they do and do not purchase. It’s further research, and further foundation for comfortable brand-customer relevance.

4. Vary your offers, but not wildly, or at random. Step out of the box, but don’t trip over yourself doing it. I’ve mostly stopped paying attention to the daily-discount-deal emails that bombard me – including daily discounts from brands I like. For instance (and yes, this is an exaggeration), why is that local home-improvement club offering me 50% off a pedicure? But what is not an exaggeration, I once received the same pedicure offer on the same day from two different deal companies. Hey, I have only one set of toes. (I told you I’d get around to it.)

Bill Brohaugh
As managing editor, Bill Brohaugh is responsible for the day-to-day management and editorial for the COLLOQUY magazine and, the most comprehensive loyalty marketing web site in the world. In addition to writing many of the feature articles, Bill develops the editorial calendar, hires and manages outside writers and researchers and oversees print and online production. He also contributes to COLLOQUY's weekly email Market Alert and the COLLOQUYTalk series of white papers.


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