Three reasons why people-based marketing will succeed where personalisation struggled

Personalisation historically has struggled to deliver. It has failed to mature to its fullest potential and achieve true one-to-one communications with consumers regardless of their chosen device, browser or channel. So what went wrong?

Essentially, enterprise technology has not evolved to accommodate for consumer shopping behaviours in the multi-device, multi-channel, multi-browser world. As consumers’ behaviours trend toward convenience, marketers are still focusing on siloed channel execution. With no way of uniquely identifying consumers throughout their buying journey, retailers are being left continually marketing to anonymous shoppers with blanketed offers.

But the next generation of marketing technology is changing the game. From analysing consumer behaviours, identifying purchase intent, and identifying previously anonymous visitors, to customised digital experiences and sophisticated behavioural profiling, people-based marketing is set to transform the timing, relevance and value of customer interactions. Nick Keating, director EMEA, BounceX, explains the essential differences between Personalisation and People-Based Marketing.

Consumer behaviour outpaces technology

There was nothing wrong with the original concept of Personalisation, but the techniques and technologies adopted by marketers to create that close customer link have completely failed to keep pace with changing consumer behaviour. The iPhone that sparked the mobile revolution was only launched in 2007, followed by the iPad in 2010. So until recent years, most retailers had one website and customers tended to visit it via a single device. Cookie-based personalisation techniques promised to make it possible to capture each customer interaction, enable marketers to build a relatively accurate customer profile and leverage solutions such as product recommendation engines to provide a tailored offer.

Yet, before most marketing teams even began to get to grips with personalisation, the consumer decision journey changed fundamentally. With the rise of smartphones and tablets, smart TVs and social media, the way in which consumers not only interact with brands but also approach the research and buying process evolved at a phenomenal pace. It is estimated that consumers will visit a site nine times before making a purchase; and McKinsey confirms that the buying cycle has lengthened significantly as consumers compare prices across different retailers, comparison sites and reviews.

With no way to identify a customer across all channels, personalisation efforts quickly lost value and marketers were driven back to the blunt tools of segmentation, using offline persona analysis and A/B testing in an attempt to optimise the online experience. The approach may deliver some value but it bears little resemblance to the vision of 1:1 marketing.

The limitations of personalisation

Yet with the goal of improved customer relevance and engagement very much front of mind, many marketers continue in their attempts to squeeze some value from personalisation. Stop. It is time to recognise the fact that the approach taken to achieving the goals of personalisation needs to change for three essential reasons:

  1. No visitor identification. In a multi-device, multi-channel model, traditional cookie-based technologies simply cannot provide that essential single view of the visitor. And with the changes in consumer behaviour and decision making, guessing or attempting to extrapolate behaviour  on one platform across every channel is never going to work.
  2. Incomplete data. With no way to join together visitor behaviour across different platforms to build a single visitor profile, marketers are constrained by a lack of trusted information. The results of product recommendation engines, therefore, tend to risk disengaging an increasingly demanding consumer who may show little to no purchase intent for those products.
  3. Immature technology. The pace of consumer change has undoubtedly left the enterprise technology vendors behind – personalisation tools have failed to create a single view of the individual across every channel or a complete data set of behavioural data that can be fed into decision engines and truly personalise the consumer experience.

Without each one of these three components, the goal of personalisation in a multi-channel, multi-device world can never succeed.

The benefits of people-based marketing

However, sophisticated behavioural marketing software can now solve each of these challenges, combining effective cross-device identification with deep transactional data and behavioural insight to understand how best to influence the visitor at every stage of their buying journey with the ultimate goal of turning them into a customer.

  1. Customer identification. This identification problem has a simple solution in the unique and very powerful identifier – the email address. People use their personal email address on a daily basis because everyone buys online – from groceries onwards – and receives online bills, order confirmations, receipts and invoices through that email address. Not only are they using this unique identifier in their buying behaviour, they are using it as their “sign-in” for their social platforms, using it to log in to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest. This email address is the key to stitching together a single view of a person across every device – and brands need to tailor the online experience to capture each visitor’s email address.
  2. Deep data. Each individual’s transactional history and historical and recent on-site behaviour, across all online real estate can be collected to build a very sophisticated profile. Information about cursor movement, hover time and location, scroll intent, time on page, categories and products viewed, plus click frequency and location provide very granular information about a visitor’s behaviour and intent.
  3. Behavioural insight. This profound understanding of customer intent can be used to customise the user experience – following and targeting an individual across the entire onsite funnel as well as offsite through targeted email and ads. Combining insight into billions of online visitors with sophisticated behavioural profiling techniques has created hundreds of best practice behaviours that can be used to trigger existing content management systems with different personalised experiences.

For the marketer frustrated by the constraints of personalisation, it is important to recognise all the components of people-based marketing. It is the way in which organisations build and explore behavioural profiles to create new connections with individual consumers that will ultimately make a real difference, help clearly differentiate a brand’s customer experience and drive up ROI.


Looking back at marketing activity over the past decade, the concept of personalisation was clearly sound – delivering a better, more relevant and timely experience will drive up sales and improve retention. But the personalisation tools available were blunt to start with and became less and less effective when faced with a rapidly changing consumer decision journey.

In contrast, the next generation of people-based marketing is a scalpel that can both identify the individual across every piece of online real estate and, perhaps even more importantly, deliver unprecedented behavioural profiling that can be used to make very specific marketing decisions and connections.

The 1:1 customer relationship is no longer mission impossible – with people-based marketing organisations finally have a powerful set of tools to effectively deliver what personalisation initially set out to achieve.