When marketing managers fail to understand personalisation

Why are marketers wasting time with email and other so called personalised marketing? We pretend to be personal and personalised but actually treat our targets as numbers to be played around with.

A few weeks ago I was approached with a personal and chatty email by the marketing manager of a blue chip company. The manager wanted to know whether I’d be interested in working on a particular assignment – I’ll not divulge the name, gender, company, country, sector.

I responded quickly – thanks for getting in contact, happy to chat. Never heard anything again. I re-read the email – maybe it had been sent out to a lot of practitioners like myself. Ever the salesman I sent a follow up with some useful background information. I never heard anything back. Am I bitter? No. Am I annoyed with the absence of response? No not particularly. Am I disappointed? Yes. Not because of the loss of some (mythical) piece of business but because of how it reflected on the way some marketing managers work. Was I surprised? Not at all because we marketers are also customers and thus the recipients of frequent communications which are anything but true to the spirit of marketing.

Marketing, relationships and personalisation

Let’s go back to marketing school. We learnt that the purpose of marketing is to understand and meet our customer requirements, build relationships, keep them returning, make a profit. All based on the principles of courtesy, respect, exceptional delivery. So my “contact” with the marketing manager was very instructive. Can a marketing manager embrace the principles of marketing with his/her customers on the one hand yet apply a completely different set of principles to other stakeholders? The answer is no. This Jekyll and Hyde attitude can’t work long term because real marketing is an all-embracing discipline, not a pick and mix tactic.

Enough of the rant. It did make me think, however, about the whole area of personalisation. Personalisation is a great tool. We know that direct marketing has made great inroads into the territory of impersonal advertising and that treating customers and potential customers as people, as individuals is going to result in a stronger relationships, the foundation of good business practice.

Courtesy: The Home group

The problem is that when we masquerade personalisation we actually treat our targets as numbers and then run the risk of ending up not with customers/supporters but lost prospects/customers/detractors. Since when did a personalised email from “No Reply” fool anyone into thinking it was part of a dialogue? “Personalisation” has backfired.

Back to marketing basics

Courttesy: Romakrznaric.com

Courtesy: Romarkrznaric.com

I doubt I’m the only person to be plagued by recorded telephone messages which arrive in my office or home with ever increasing regularity. They’re the result of personal contact at some time or another. The result? I wish that there’d been no previous contact at all. Effective personalisation is all about creating a theme, a connection, a feeling amongst targets that they are special, even if deep down they know they are one of many. Which takes me back to the title of this blog. Marketing managers really need to demonstrate their understand of marketing and personalisation. Too many managers complete their initial marketing qualifications and then consign what they learnt to the dusty bookshelves of their office or worse still, the attic at home. But revisiting those early learning principles is a useful and timely activity. Sometimes we have to go back to school to learn why we’re in our places and positions in the first place and continue to apply core principles time and again.

Now I wonder whether that marketing manager will read this….

My five key tips for effective customer focused personalised marketing

  1. Don’t do it unless it is genuinely personal
  2. Think customer – would you like to receive the email/mailing you are about to send out?
  3. Or, if you are a marketer, ask a non marketing colleague or family member – would they like to receive it?
  4. Personalisation should be about building relationships – right offer delivered in the right way
  5. Encourage dialogue – that’s all part of real personalisation.


What is your experience? What should marketers do?

Market Echoes runs strategic marketing workshops which can help you build real and sustainable relationships with your customers.


  1. James Peacock - 09/27/2014 , 04:11 PM

    Hi Julian

    An interesting piece. “Fake personalisation” Is an area that really gets my goat.

    I received an e-mail the other day that started “Dear James (If I may),…”. No you may not! Especially since you are a database and not even a real person!

    The e-mail was clearly generic and this nod to personalisation just made it worse. It immediately made me lose my trust in the company (who I’ve done business with before) and ignore what came subsequently in the post.

    • Julian Rawel - 09/27/2014 , 04:11 PM

      Hi James
      Thanks for your comment.
      If marketing managers just sat on the other side of the table they might see fake personalisation for what it is – a fake representation of their brand.

  2. Alireza Iranmanesh - 09/27/2014 , 04:11 PM

    Hi Julian,
    I was your student at TIAS.
    Currently, I work as a marketing research supervisor at LG electronics.
    The experience that I got from personalized marketing is:
    To have some alternatives communication tools; marketers should have precise data of the audiences and then choose the most effective communication tool.

    • Julian Rawel - 09/27/2014 , 04:11 PM

      Dear Alireza
      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Seyhan Baki (MBA Exec) - 09/27/2014 , 04:11 PM

    Hi Julian,

    I like your new style which is fun and easy to read.

    My takeaway from your article is that genuinity it is the key in any area of business. When I had first received a personalised letter from my phone company I felt special but then the magic disappeared, because I soon realised that it was not special at all. This is similar to the google’s personalised advertising. Initially I thought it was great, but then felt frustrated by the computer generated ads, relevant to my navigation profile, appearing on every page I would visit.

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