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Marketers Face The Intimacy Paradox

Marketing technology offers brands previously unimaginable levels of personalisation, but marketers should beware of abandoning the unique power of mass marketing altogether.

Personalisation has long been touted as one of the biggest trends in marketing communication, but consumers and brands are increasingly questioning the effectiveness of this one-to-one approach. When P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard declared that the brand had been “targeting too much” on Facebook, he sparked a wave of articles predicting the death of targeting. Pritchard told The Wall Street Journal: “We targeted too much, and we went too narrow. And now we’re looking at: What is the best way to get the most reach but also the right precision?”

But far from heralding the death of targeting, his comments underline the need for a new approach, ditching the reliance on false intimacy that has underpinned the majority of “one-to-one” marketing to date. It also calls for a re-examination of influencer marketing.

Theo Izzard-Brown, head of strategy at McCann London, says that P&G’s experience lays bare the inconvenient truth that ruthlessly precise targeting alone doesn’t always translate into more efficient customer acquisition. He explained: “As marketers, we love to tell ourselves what we do is a ‘science’ with predictable outcomes. P&G reminds us that this isn’t, nor has it ever been, wholly the case.”

A Narrow Lens
The enduring power of mass marketing received a further boost from professor of marketing sciences Byron Sharp. In his book “How Brands Grow,” Sharp contends that successful brands grow through penetration and by attracting more light and infrequent buyers, rather than by deepening loyalty among a smaller number of pre-existing users. In essence, successful growth brands are the ones that combine universal appeal with the biggest customer base. As McCann’s Izzard-Brown explained: “If you really want to grow, you want to reach more and varied consumers, not fewer more precisely targeted consumers.”

While the opportunities afforded by digital have fundamentally changed the tools available to marketing, this doesn’t negate the importance of mass marketing to build brand reputation. The success of a brand still lies within its reputation, and, therefore, there is significant value in being known to those who don’t buy as well as those who do.

False Intimacy
The prevailing belief system in marketing is based on the premise that personalisation and intrusion are not an issue for consumers, but the lack of relevancy of marketing communications is. This suggests the solution to any given marketing problem is more personalised targeting, not less.

Yet Paul Gayler, a planning partner at Goodstuff Communications, warns the rising use of ad blocker usage outside of social spaces is not only due to an increasing frustration with disruptive and processor-hogging ad formats, but also to consumer desire to protect themselves from this “unwarranted and overt exploitation of personal data.” He said: “Intimacy is a human-to-human emotion, and one that algorithms will always struggle to replicate.”

In essence, this means that the reliance on building deeper relationships with the few, at the expense of investing in the broader reach of mass marketing, may well be unsustainable.

Mike Cullis, CEO at Soul, says the possibilities of new technology can often take over and the human element is forgotten, when, in fact, “having an understanding of an empathy with the person involved, or ‘user,’ is what makes the technology actually work successfully.” With wearable technology and biometric tracking offering brands the promise of unprecedented insight into their consumers’ lives, this gives credence to the notion that marketers should seek new parameters and permissions from consumers.

Hyper-Targeting And Hyper-Relevance
Marketers have reached an inflection point when it comes to their focus on consumer data—one that some in the industry believe has been at the expense of big thinking brand ideas. Lesley Lindberg, co founder of KOYO Marketing Capability, says consumers buy with their head and their heart. She explained: “Hyper-targeting and tactical measures tell you what customers do, not why they do it. Understanding customers at a deeper level across the breadth of your brand’s experience is essential to competitive advantage.”

However, as Internet of Things technology and the seemingly unstoppable ascent of Amazon show, the power of connecting with consumers lies with a potent mix of speed, utility, and delivery. Soul’s Cullis believes the strength of this marketing power comes down to relevance, and this is where brands such as Amazon deliver. He believes that hyper-local targeting is still underutilised by brands. Pointing to the agency’s work with Relish broadband in London, he explains that building locally focused messaging into marketing has had a significant uplift on conversion rates and sales.  

Micro Influence
Rather than signalling the declining importance of social networks as a marketing platform, reappraising the role of mass marketing demands a renewed focus on influencer marketing.

McCann London’s Izzard-Brown says today’s reformed media landscape and subsequent power shift towards on-demand consumer-controlled content have created much more nuanced and complex networks of influence. He explained: “Once niche interests can now coalesce into thriving communities, all of which have their own heroes and thought leaders.”

As brands get more adapt at micro-targeting, some industry experts believe this could become core to brand building. Chris Pearce, CEO at TMW Unlimited, says adidas is already pioneering in engaging micro-influencers with fewer followers, but who are highly credible in the space. He explained: “Known as the Tango squads after an early football model, it is early days on the overall effectiveness but marketers will be watching with interest.”

The future of mass marketing must transcend the promise and pitfalls of personalisation at scale. Forging deeper relationships with the few must not trump the ambition to reach out to the many. When the intimacy between brand and consumer is all too often imagined, reappraising this strategy should be a business imperative.

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