Facebook can teach the direct marketeer a thing or two

Facebook has done something that Direct Marketing has largely failed to do for 15 years at least: personalise the message.

Although Facebook occasionally struggles with genders, not all applications having access to sufficient personal details to choose an appropriate pronoun, it certainly has a go. Instead of listing as separate updates people whose profile pictures have recently been changed, it comma-separates those people in a single update element.

The direct marketeer often struggles between the richness of data available and the possibility that for some people, many elements of this data are likely to be missing. The data on offer through a 100+ question lifestyle questionnaire may look like a marketeer’s dream, but its so many variables make the automated personalisation of a message very difficult. And does missing data mean a lack of interest in something or a lack of interest in the very act of answering that question?

In reality, it shouldn’t really be that difficult. Analysis should be able to identify those variables that the marketeers should be interested in, either because of the targeting of the message or the correlation of such a variable with uplifted response rates. And once the variables of interest have been chosen and prioritised, relatively targeted messaging can be tailored around the values of these. An interest in golf may be the trumping factor, after which a salary in excess of a certain figure, followed by being male, being single then being over a certain age. The messaging behind each of these segments can be tailored appropriately to make the communication suitably targeted, with other variables like gender allowing for more localised tweaking of the English.

More transactional data sources (e.g. Ocado’s buyer history) can allow for much more extensive customer sets, the personalisation behind each one likely being more straightforward than the lifestyle data mentioned earlier. (“As someone who’s bought Macleans toothpaste in the past, you may be interested in their new mouthwash.”)

In either example above, each cell (in the marketing sense of the word) needs to be represented by a line in a spreadsheet in order of priority, with the columns representing the variables whose values will vary because of the targeting: pronouns, pieces of prose, URLs, link texts etc.

Often, marketeers see the swathe of data available to them and regard the problem as insurmountable. It’s not. It just takes some careful planning, and demands a focus on a manageable number of variables and cells rather than trying to truly personalise the message.

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