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Why you should be marketing to a segment of one

We like to say that marketing has changed for the digital age, but the reality is we’ve barely tinkered at the core, while placing incremental additions on the edges. Our industry is rooted firmly in the assumptions, the limitations and the processes of an era of broadcast media, expensive reach and no interactivity. Trapped in a system that revolves around impressions and eyeballs, we’ve developed algorithms to automate old processes. Huge opportunities await those who rethink principles, not augment what we know.

If our goal is building meaningful relationships with people, we need far more texture and granularity in our understanding of them. We need to look beyond antiquated metrics like demographics. Instead of reducing multifaceted people to age or geography or household income, we need to focus on attitudes, behaviours, and on why people act like they do. If we’re aiming to build brand advocates, we need a much richer dialogue. How do we expect to achieve that by only looking at silos and segments?

Demographic data is done for

If you are a brand that’s trying to be as authentic as you say you are, you need to be intimate and consistent, but the dangerous game you play is that even slight errors are jarring. It’s not about segments created from data that’s sliced and diced until it’s as simple and reassuring as possible. It’s about building a one-to-one relationship with every person that’s touched your brand, whether they are the end user or the influencer or the purchaser.

We are so much more than our data. Prince Charles and Ozzie Osbourne are two men born in 1948, are wealthy, have two kids, married twice, self-employed, and from London. We clearly need to look beyond postcodes, ages, and stats that just skim the surface. We talk often about the size of data, but we should really focus on its potency, its veracity and its ability to move up from information to understanding. As devices monitor our faces, phones track our voices, and watches track our movements, we have new dimensions of rich personal data, to, when appropriate, use to create relevant messages, to offer solutions people actually want, and in this process, to nurture significant relationships.

Without context, you can be completely off in how you are communicating with consumers. When the only vehicle you have is social media, you can’t build real relationships, because all you are doing is putting out a message and asking people how they feel about it. But when you truly understand someone based on their behaviour, based on their expressed preferences, and based on a thorough, multi-dimensional profile, now you’re able to initiate a conversation based on truth and personal meaning.

Why bother ‘finding your tribe’?

The more a brand can walk their talk, the better chance of survival, growth, and sustainability in the marketplace. Now, if you’re deciding on an item that’s not going to change your life, say, something utilitarian in nature, you’re probably not going to care as much about the backstory of the manufacturer or distribution arm that brought it to you. But if it’s clothing you wear, if it’s makeup, if it’s anything that affects your physical self and personal appearance, your family, your pets, wherever your heart is, you want to make sure you’re making the best choices, based on your values, your passions, and what’s authentic to you.

Whether it’s brands like Glossier or Madewell, some of the most powerful examples in marketing today stand out because they’ve identified their tribe and they speak to them in the right way. They work hard to not only be transparent and truthful, but they make people feel they’re addressing their unique needs, and they carry a do-good message. They’re saying: We understand you, and here is how we demonstrate the values you care about. As a result, they become symbols that consumers want to be associated with, and they build communities of loyal fans.

Rethinking marketing around one-to-one relationships involves a deep shift. Brands first need to gather information and understand who touches their product and why. Any time you’re going to reach out and tap someone on the shoulder, it should be based on location, time of day, and it should be hyper relevant, timely and important to them. Only after that can you develop effective campaigns and determine who receives them and over what modality.

Let’s say you’re a Nike customer who’s in the market to purchase new shoes; you’re lured into a Reebok store, and there is no doubt about your intention -- you are there to look at shoes. You might be looking for value. What if a push notification went out at that exact moment to let you know about a deal or a new product launch at the Nike store? This is just one instance of marketing that’s about reaching out to you personally, to serve an actual need you have, when you are at your most interested and seeking out solutions.

Personalisation builds trust and loyalty

From beauty brands to travel to restaurants, sports and entertainment venues and mixed use retail, there is incredible potential to unlock, if we let go of old models and refocus around new human needs and the solutions that new technology makes possible. When reaching out to consumers who are receptive and have opted in to being spoken to in these contexts, whether it’s via mobile, wi-fi networks or interactive signage, the lens through which to approach it is, once again, one of service. The segment of one becomes a vital step towards reimagining marketing in a way that’s individualised, personalised, timely, concierge-like, and intrinsically relevant and valuable.

Imagine a hotel brand, say Marriott Bonvoy -- there is nothing more important than building loyalty and one-on-one relationships with customers. But first, they need to understand how I travel and how my behaviour changes based on whether I travel for business vs. with a significant other vs. with family. I’m a different person depending on the context, and that context should inform not only when and where the brand can and should reach consumers, but also the body of their messaging.

The next question is what they do with the information they have in order to make existing processes more efficient and enjoyable. If I go out of my way to fill out my account profile, down to the types of pillows I like, I’m clearly willing to provide all the information a hotel brand might need and offer my loyalty in exchange for excellent service. How wonderful would it be to arrive, and because my mobile device appears on the premises, I can be automatically checked in. Next up, I might get a notification letting me know my room is ready, or asking if I’d like my luggage sent up. Then there might be some scheduled triggers - about an hour later, I might be ready to have a drink. Why not ask me if I’d be interested in happy hour and live music, via a notification? I might not, but I’ll happily respond, and that’s valuable data that can lead to more relevant experiences in the future. When they’re serving me as a guest, they’re effectively creating a virtual focus group with the ability to communicate to each one personally.

If I’m known to love concerts and festivals, then why not communicate with me around what I’m passionate about and notify me if my favourite band is playing in the area and if there’s a special offer for me as a loyal member? There is tremendous opportunity in tapping into the service of discovery, of facilitating special experiences, and connecting the dots between hotels, venues, local businesses to better serve consumers. Once I feel known and understood around what’s most meaningful to me, around what creates comfort and emotional connection, why would I want to stay somewhere dumb where I get frustrated when they ask for my name, on my seventh stay within the last six months?

Marketing should mimic real human interaction

While new research in this space is long overdue, we do know that more than 80 percent of consumers are willing to trade their personal information for personalised messaging, offers or content. If you give me something that’s more valuable, personalised, and relevant to me, I’m happy to give you some of my info,  but as a brand, you have to honour that choice. In that sense, the rules and common courtesy of personal relationships apply to one-on-one marketing as well. Would you want to get to a fifth date with someone, only to have them lean across the table and ask, “What was your name again?”. Or equally, be prompted with an extremely intrusive personal question, immediately upon meeting someone new? Both scenarios are still much too common in marketing today.

Brands need to establish the value they are providing and express it with full transparency. They need to say: We want to know this about you, for this reason. If you explain to consumers how they benefit by providing this  information, you have a much better chance, and after that, you have to be respectful and use it for its intended purpose.

Once brands understand the consumer, and most importantly, the distinction between the buyer and the end consumer, the role their product plays in their life, and what needs and problems it solves, marketers need to apply that knowledge across the appropriate modalities and channels.

Just because an agency told you that your brand needs to be on Instagram because that’s where the influencers are, it doesn’t mean that’s right for you. Let’s remember to not throw everything into one modality, because people have 360 degree lives. If we make the effort to understand them thoroughly, if we invest our resources into decoding their behaviour, sentiment, and cultural anthropology, that’s when we can truly deliver on the promise of meaning and authenticity, beyond the buzzwords.