November 16

The pitfalls of personalisation

As is the case in this pandemic, I have been playing a fair few video games. I recently bought and finished Far Cry 5, a 2018 title that was on sale for the bargain price of about seven quid in PlayStation’s store (at time of writing it’s £49.99).

In addition, I’ve got history with the franchise having played Far Cry 2, 3 and 4 on PlayStation but never paying full price for them.

Now if you’re PlayStation there are a lot of signals about me in there. I like a bargain on older games. I like the Far Cry series and I recently finished the main story which PlayStation would know from gaming data.

About a week after finishing the game I got the email below from them.

Far Cry: New Dawn Email image

To the untrained eye, it looks a smart email. It references why I got it and by proxy why I should care. It promotes the newest title in the franchise, ‘Far Cry: New Dawn’, which is set in the same location as Far Cry 5 just several years after a nuclear apocalypse. Obviously.

But it gets a few things wrong which turns it from excellent to potentially damaging.

Close but no cigar

Firstly, the product offered is wrong. In the copy, Far Cry: New Dawn is mentioned but the imagery is a combined packaged of Far Cry 5 (which I remind you I have completed) alongside the new game. Why would I rebuy the same game again and pay that extra cost for it when there I can buy the sequel as a standalone title?

Secondly, there’s no offer or incentive to buy. I bought Far Cry 5 well after launch on a great deal (as with every other game in the series) so I am not likely to pay full price for the game. A decent offer for just for the new game may well have tipped me into a trip into post-apocalyptic Hope County.

Personalisation is tricky but effective

What this shows is the fine margins for error when trying to get personalisation right. To quote Al Pacino’s character Tony D’Amato from ‘Any Given Sunday’:

“…..the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it.”

Personalisation is powerful. According to data from Litmus personalised emails have been thought to generate a median ROI of 122%.

And according to Accenture, 41% of US consumers said they ditched a company because of “poor personalization and lack of trust”. If you buy that research that’s a lot of money lost; $756 billion in one year.

The core elements of good personalisation

To do personalisation well you need a combination of three things:

1. the right timing

2. relevant content/offer(s)

3. accurate, compelling and transparent creative.

To illustrate these three things, and create balance in the Force, I want to use another example from PlayStation where they got it right — an email I received when I completed the main story missions from the acclaimed ‘God of War’.

God of War email image

Email taken from authors email account

The Right Timing

This email arrived within a day or two of completing the main story. If I got this two weeks later it would be much less compelling a message — that window of relevancy would have gone.

When you are constructing campaigns be cognizant of the speed and frequency of the data feeds into the customer database that you use for your direct marketing. In my career I’ve had to deal with real-time, hourly, daily and weekly feeds of certain data points and each affected what campaigns we could and couldn’t run.

Relevant content/offer

Clearly PlayStation are swimming in gameplay data which indicates what parts of the game I had and hadn’t completed.

For most brands, trying to figure out the right content or offer is bloody hard and yet annoyingly is absolutely the crux of personalisation. It is this reason why personalisation has been at the top of every CRM / Direct Marketers priorities for the last ten years.

The ideal way to do it is to use whatever behavioural signals you have in your data and distilling that down into something useful. It could be as easy as someone completing a car configuration if you’re an automotive brand or using a mortgage calculator if you’re a bank. It could use the data you gather from a preference centre or it could be something super complex like Amazon building their comprehensive collaborative filtering software to show you what people like you also bought. Hell, you can even buy recommendation engines to do this for you (if you have the data and you’re all right with someone else’s black boxes making your decisions. Not a fan personally.)

Whatever route you choose, make sure you’re interpreting signals in the right way. For example clicking onto a product page may have been an accident, not a sign that a customer wants that product. Always err on a cautious interpretation. your text here...

Accurate, compelling and transparent creative

PlayStation did some smart things here. They acknowledge my progress through the game which creates transparency around why I got the email at all. They also made use of psychological tactics by highlighting scarcity and using the Goal Gradient effect (which states that as people get closer to a reward, they speed up their behaviour to get to their goal faster) to convince me to get to the Platinum trophy.

Bad personalisation is worse than no personalisation

Marketoonist personalisation image

It is bloody hard to create truly personalised communication and experiences. Brands need a lot of underpinning capability to deliver on the three elements I’ve outlined like complete, timely and accurate customer data, great analysts/data scientists, strong campaign management tools, good creative teams and more.

Having all that is not cheap, especially if you’re wrestling with legacy systems. That’s why a lot of brands mess it up and when brands do get it wrong, it comes across as a lack of care. it just highlights the deficiencies.

However, I commend PlayStation for trying. They are ticking a lot of boxes with the emails they send me. We know personalisation helps drive response and companies should absolutely try and deliver against that. I just implore you to be careful, to really think through all the elements required for personalisation.

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