SENSITIVITY isn't just something a woman looks for in a man, but something customers so desperately need from marketers. Here's how to stay on point.

Marketers have access to a wealth of information on individual customers, obtaining this data through purchase and web histories, geolocation tools or social media activity.

Taking this to the next stage, and in a frightening manner, is the ability for laptops, tablets and phones to talk to each other - sharing information with one another on user behaviours via a sound frequency that can't be heard by human ears.

Here's hoping they don't get all Terminator on us; there is a huge 'if' as to whether this technology presents a real opportunity for marketers. One thing's for sure though: this data must be handled with sensitivity and disclosure otherwise it's just highly invasive.

There are a couple of strategies that marketers need to keep front of mind in order to strike the balance of privacy and respect.

Add real and meaningful value to the customer

People are, generally speaking, happy to allow marketers to use their data when it's being used to add meaningful value to the customer's interaction with the brand. Brands that are using their customer data to provide a personalised interaction with the brand, and provide timely and relevant information of direct interest to that customer, will not typically have to worry about customer concerns that the data is being used.

In a world post-Facebook, Twitter and other social media, concerns over a data being 'public' are not what they were a decade ago. At the same time, these social media networks use data in a way that enhances the customer's experience with it. That is the only reason that there is minimal backlash over the extent of data on each individual user that these networks maintain.

Encourage interaction with the brand

A second step after providing tailored information to the customer is using digital channels, coupled with the customer data, to encourage a deeper interaction with the brand.

Using a technology platform to understand where a customer is at a point in time, and then interact with that customer through their preferred channel, can be a PR disaster when handled poorly. The companies that are doing it well, however, are appreciated by their audiences for providing the right content to them at the right time. A lot of work in data analytics at the moment is going into understanding micro-moments and timing engagement to the precise moment that a user's attention can be caught, and to do that, a marketer needs good quality data on each individual customer.

Understand what personalisation actually means

Personalisation means more than inserting a customer's name in an email campaign. Personalisation is key in understanding how a customer wants to interact with the brand, at both a conscious and unconscious level, and then anticipating these interactions. My engagement history often points to my conscious desires, whereas lookalike cohorts are a strong indicator of unconscious wants. That is why Amazon's recommendations can be so compelling.

Not all of us have Amazon's capabilities at our disposal - but thoughtful baby steps, using proven best practices such as control groups and multi-variate testing will yield excellent outcomes.

Businesses can take the first steps towards personalising their communications to their customers by collecting data such as how a customer interacts with their brand: how they use apps or the website, areas of interest, the drop-off points and the purchases they make. That data allows the brand to segment customers into categories and tailor communication based on those categories. This data is easy to collect and there are any number of tools that can be used. Simple communications to customers can easily be brought to life with interesting levels of personalisation around these basic data points.

More detailed data such as shopping or purchase behaviour can then be layered in, as well as location-based data. Next steps can involve using advanced analytics tools that leverage big data and start to predict the customer's conscious and unconscious needs. Then you are starting to use personalisation as a powerful tool to drive much higher levels of engagement.

No surprises!

Nothing discomforts a customer quite like discovering that their data is being collected and then utilised in an underhanded manner.

Much of this risk can be mitigated by simply making the customer aware that you will be collecting their data through their interactions with your brand. The goodwill that a customer will be willing to extend to an organisation that doesn't surprise them with deceptive data collection strategies is worth the effort, even beyond the ethical considerations.

Brendan is pictured centre. 

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