Contrary to what we in the industry might like to think, most people have total antipathy towards advertising. At best it’s a necessary evil. 

But advertising really could be so much more, providing it’s useful. And the way to make something useful is to make it relevant, through contextualisation and personalisation.

Every brand worth its salt uses some form of contextual targeting to entice users in – be it through display targeting, RLSAs, or promoting certain pieces of content or products on their website based on previous visits.

Google’s announcement of its Google Analytics 360 Suite, with its Audience Centre, Data Studio and Optimisation solution will certainly go some way to helping brands be better at placing customers at the heart of their marketing.

The wider issue is – this isn’t something you set up once, tick the box and you’re done.

Achieving that authentic personal touch is an infinite evolution and one that should include the following considerations:

1. Combine multiple data sources

We’ve all seen the BBC’s Sherlock, right? It’s impressive how he can infer so much about someone just by looking at them.

We can do something similar online, but we have to start to look beyond the basic targeting Google allows. Combining multiple ‘clues’ about your audience to build up a better picture of them is the key to accurate targeting.

You’ll find you can get most of this from your analytics, your CRM database, your social networks.

Sure it can be time consuming stitching them all together. But it’s worth it.

Unsurprisingly, online supermarkets seem to be the best at this (and some are laying the foundations for pre-empting shipping). A lot of other brands think it doesn’t apply to them. It does. 

2. Allow feedback, and learn from it

People’s circumstances change – those in market today are not necessarily looking for the same product tomorrow. You need to adapt.

Good advertisers will recognise this and change their approach. Great advertisers will engage with their customers to understand how best they want to be communicated with.

Brands let customers set email frequency preferences – why don’t they do the same with online advertising? 

3. Stop forcing an experience on your audience, instead build one around them

Blanket retargeting everyone who ever looked at that new sofa product page you created will get you some conversions, sure.

But you’ll also have annoyed a lot of people, who for whatever reason just didn’t want to buy that sofa in the first place. Be more nuanced – develop separate, personalised strategies depending on the type of people you’d like to engage with. 

The hard sell is only necessary when you’re time pressured – you can often afford to be more relaxed, and more tailored with your approach, online. 

4. ‘Offsite’ and ‘onsite’ do not live in separate bubbles 

You can spend millions crafting a beautifully personalised experience around your audience on your website.

But if your ‘offsite’ acquisition strategy is based around shoving poorly targeted advertising down people’s throats then the best you can hope for is your site experience being able to compensate for a poor journey on the way there.

A contextual, personal touch in guiding the way is at least as important as the experience once you arrive. The content you expose to people to on their route to your website plays a defining role in the conversion (or lack thereof) you achieve on their exit.

You only have to look at the rise of ad-blocking software to know just how far off the mark ads can be these days, with people rejecting them in droves.

Following someone across the internet for weeks on end with banners promoting a sofa they fleetingly considered purchasing is the online equivalent of employing someone to continually stalk a customer with a ‘Buy this Sofa!’ placard.

You wouldn’t do that in real life so why do it online?

Sean Philip

Published 5 April, 2016 by Sean Philip

Sean is the Strategy Director at iCrossing and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (2)

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David Allison, Marketing Coordinator at Hivewyre

Good article. Would love to get your take on the benefit second-party data could have with advertisers/marketers making more informed decisions with display ads. We (hivewyre.com) find that second-party data allows ecommerce site owners to have more insights into how their customers and new visitors interact with their site, their ads and the overall shopping experience they take away. I agree with having a relevant contextual and personal touch in the ads being shown to potential customers on one's site... Again, well thought out article.

over 1 year ago

Sean Philip

Sean Philip, Strategy Director at iCrossing

Hi David, apologies for the late reply - I've been away enjoying my honeymoon!

Thanks for the comment and feedback. I’d encourage the use of any data that helps advertisers and marketers build a better understanding of audience and their individual consumer journeys. Augmenting your own first-party data with second-party sources is a great way to facilitate that. It’s also important to note that taking a more personalised approach means understanding when not to engage with a customer – we’re trying to advocate an approach that’s as far removed from spammy advertising as possible. Just because we *can* do something doesn’t necessarily mean we *should*.

over 1 year ago

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