Marketers in the West are currently fascinated by WeChat's success in the East.

I think part of the fascination is that something other than email is being used for one-to-one marketing and communication.

Companies are interacting with consumers in all sorts of inventive ways through this ubiquitous messaging app.

It got me thinking about one-to-one marketing, and the fallacy that certain channels can provide it.

Understanding the consumer

Getting into the consumer's head involves thinking about our long-inculcated awareness of the broadcast and the private.

The most important part of a message (the bit we notice first) is often not the content, but the intended audience.

If you receive an email sent to the entire company by the CEO, you immediately think it could be big news. If you personally receive an email from the CEO, you immediately think it could be a big opportunity.

The consumer has a similar instinct for the nuances of messaging, wherever they receive them.


Despite social media's potential, most companies broadcast

Social media is a fantastic sandpit for personal communications. But most companies' commitment to social is half-hearted.

Here is the typical usage of Twitter by a brand that doesn't understand the medium:

  • Posts once a day with bland content that's created on the hoof or watered down by legal team.
  • If a consumer replies to this one tweet, the brand will Like the reply or add a generic comment such as 'we're glad you think so, Name!'
  • The majority of the Twitter usage is reactive, replying to complaints.
  • Replies to complaints simply direct the customer to another channel (usually call centre). 

Granted, many companies use social media in a much more proactive fashion, approaching a one-to-one model.

But, rarely do companies implement social CRM, especially in B2C (though some, such as KLM, do serve customers within social platforms).

It's WeChat usage that seems to be the exception, with brands successfully infiltrating social messaging (with the permission of the user) to give the same flexiblity as email and add social validation and increased data input.

Zara's store locator within WeChat (Source:

zara's store locator on wechat

Search is verging on the personal

Although the majority of Google users see search as about permission and intent, it is becoming a personal channel as well, with the continuing evolution of Google Now.

The ability to show personal details in search (such as order history) is a big change. However, it must be said that some of this personal information is taken from Gmail.

Chris Lake showcases new Google Now experimentation.

google now

Websites are often impersonal...

When the EU 'cookie law' came in, consumers didn't care one jot about banner messages explaining they were being tracked.

In fact, the only time consumers care is when this message gets in the way of content.

Similarly, ad blockers are mostly used to improve the UX that consumers have on their laptop or phone, not to protect the identity of their device.

That's because nothing will change consumer perception of most websites as tools to be used almost anonymously (until they have to register).

cookies on asos is display advertising

Though we accept cookies, consumers see display advertising as interruptive and functionless (a 'price to pay').

Consumers also regard display ads as impersonal, even in the case of retargeting, where they understand the ad is dynamic (and often more tailored than email).

Again, this is because the website is notionally 'open' and available to all, therefore broadcast.

This is the nature of advertising, of course; about awareness and relatively low conversion from large exposure.

Email is the best of all possible worlds

Many in digital talk about email almost as it were analogue (tired and old hat). But few underestimate its power when combined with CRM, automation and great creative.

Email is two way (when done correctly), affords relatively high frequency of contact, works on permission and, in many cases, consumer intent.

Though consumers understand that marketing emails are sent in batches, they pay attention to them and do not see them as disruptive (engaging when they are ready).

Lots of marketers across a wide range of companies would admit that email is their most important marketing channel (it is for Econsultancy), cost-effective, vital for retention and consumer engagement.

To learn more about email marketing, book yourself onto our training course in London.

Ben Davis

Published 2 February, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (6)

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Delphine Moulu

Delphine Moulu, Communications Manager at Reelevant

Thanks for this article Ben, I'll have to admit I agree and disagree with you here :) Email definitely is the king of one-to-one marketing, but not when it's sent in batches.
See, mass mailing is absolutely not personal as it consists for a brand in sending the same message, to all its database, at the very same moment. To me, one-to-one marketing implies hyper personalization — sending the right message, to the right person, at the right time, — that "one size fits all" emails are simply not providing.

over 2 years ago

John Galavan

John Galavan, Sales at Juice

The actual phone call is the true king but following this is email when written and received as unique to the recipient. As Delphine noted, mass email is not special. Years ago I attempted, with some success, selling software via the phone into the international market. This was before chat. With chat to aid my contact strategy... I would have been much more successful. I did use email and it proved vital to my (telephone tactic) success.

over 2 years ago


Jacques Corby-Tuech, Marketing at ETX Capital

Mass mailing when done through a competent ESP that can handle thorough personalisation is absolutely one-to-one marketing.

over 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Yes, I suppose I was struggling to explain that my definition of one-to-one marketing is rooted in what the customer perceives as one-to-one.

Any channel that the customer views as communication, not consciously as marketing or a shill, has to be extremely valuable. I'd argue email maintains its freshness in that regard (when done well!)

over 2 years ago

Parry Malm

Parry Malm, CEO at Phrasee Ltd.

Mass-marketing works, and it works well, be it via email, or TV, or display, or whatever. It shouldn't be your only email strategy, but it should be part of it. One-to-one emails are great, but don't fit every use case.

Remember, email marketing is a form of advertising. Sometimes mass advertising is the dominant method to drive brand engagement... and ultimately revenue.

over 2 years ago


Dmitry Kalashnik, Market Manager at NoCompany

I would say that emails works well, but SMS-notification got higher change to be read, than Email, It's like a guy at the end of the street, giving out advertising only to the end of the crowd. More success will be the one who will take center.

about 1 year ago

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