About those promises of “smart”, “personalised”, “data-driven” marketing…

By Natalie McCrae, Director, Keystone Consulting

I have a question for you: Is it enough for businesses to believe that as long as they are acquiring customers, retention will take care of itself? And at what point do you begin to put measures into place to avoid “best intentions and poor execution” becoming a yoke around your business’s neck?

As a regular user of many popular online e-Commerce sites, I’m often astounded by how companies use data to market their products and services across multiple channels, but there’s a lack of finesse in how it’s executed and how relevant a lot of it is to me as a person with needs and motivations.

There’s no shortage of real-world examples out there:

  1. Here is a dress that you recently clicked on” – retargeted to me on every website and social media platform I visit, with seemingly no statute of limitations on how long I will actually be seeing this dress ad for?
  2. Let’s take it one step further: “Here is the dress you recently bought and returned because it didn’t fit all that well” – retargeted in the same fashion!
  3. “Here is that watch you just bought – and 25 other watches you might like”. How many watches am I likely to buy in a week?
  4. “You just bought a winter coat. Here is a discount on another winter coat”. Actually, I am unlikely to need another coat this season – so thanks for the discount that I’ll probably never use. Where was that discount when I was shopping for a coat in the first place? An offer on my favourite tea, which I would likely be buying again really soon, would have probably had the desired effect.

Be smart

There’s nothing wrong with using data to target or even re-target customers. In fact, I LOVE that businesses are using data! However - beware the risk of only using parts of your customer data – or putting too much emphasis on data that could be misleading.

Understand WHY

The starting point is to take a step back and understand WHY they’re your customers in the first place. They have needs, aspirations and motivations that drove them to what you have to offer. What is it that they love about you? What is it that they don’t love about you?


As customers, we’ve told businesses a lot about ourselves over the years and with the right approach to insights – business should not just hear their customers speaking, but also LISTEN to what their customers have told them!


Any customer relationship, like any meaningful conversation, is a two-way street – and that’s what makes the difference between “speaking TO our customers” and “speaking WITH our customers”.

Capture your customers attention

Data-driven marketing that is executed well can capture our customers attention, pique their interest and attract a larger share of their wallets! However it often feels like businesses are only listening to part of customer conversations. Retargeting me with what I have merely browsed and not linking that behaviour to actual transactions is a very pertinent example right now.

Be personal

What is also fascinating is that there is very little differentiation between messages that different customers get, and sometimes it seems like we have taken a step back to the old days of “spray and pray”.

Dont spray and pray

Again, one real-world example comes from an online retailer that sends me two e-mails and two push notifications on my phone a day, advertising everything and the kitchen sink on deep promotion. This is despite me being an engaged customer who is not driven by promotions at all. I feel that after all the time and effort I’ve invested in being their customer, they should know me a little better.

Is it a case of they don’t know what is driving their success and hence they don’t know what to prioritise? Is there an underlying fear that not sending a message might impact on the bottom line?

Sadly, I believe this trend will frustrate customers to the point they either unsubscribe or go elsewhere in the hope they will enjoy a better, more personalised and RELEVANT experience. The impact of brand perception would be fascinating to measure, but in the meantime there’s an ROI bubble waiting to burst!

Amazon remembering that I like Haruki Murakami and recommending new books or works by similar authors is a great example of using data in a smart way. Remembering I bought clothes pegs and trying to get me to buy more clothes pegs the next week…ja, not so smart.

The smart approach

Having the ability to apply the same intuition we have when dealing one on one with customers is crucial to really succeed in this game. If I was having a conversation with you – I would not recommend you watch the same piece of content that you have already watched, nor try and sell you the dress you’re currently wearing, or potentially even returned a week prior. Nor would I try and sell you what other women of my age and ethnicity ‘typically’ purchase.

The smart approach would be to recommend items that are associated with what I already know you have liked or not liked. I may well also engage with you very differently if I knew it was your first time in the store vs. a regular and loyal customer.

It’s common sense, really, so why do we keep getting this so wrong?

Data can be messy – I’ll give you that one - and systems may not have all the functionality needed. There may well be work to do to build a sleek and automated customer engagement journey.

But start with understanding who your customer is today:

  1. What is my relationship with your business?
    • How valuable, frequent and how much have I bought into the offering?
    • A measurement tool that allows us to set goals and target customers at a macro level to drive frequency, spend and engagement
  2. What do I like / dislike?
    • What are the key shopper motivations & needs & what does this mean for how you manage your offer?
    • Quality, price, brands, innovation, family, convenience, experience, exclusivity?
  3. Where is my head at right now?
    • Monitor key aspects of customer behaviour & proactively target customers
    • Have I just bought a dress – how about these accessories that would look great with it?

Create context for yourself and your customers by applying a bit of “outside-in” thinking to your processes and journeys. Often, a simple serving of empathy – putting yourself into your customers’ shoes – is a great way to keep yourself honest and take the blinkers off that often result in creating more complexity than needed in our businesses.

How do you do this?

  1. Base your insights on fact and supplement with good research. Come up with solid hypothesis, test it, and iterate. It’s all about being agile.
  2. Do it for all your customers. You might be surprised about who your most loyal customers actually are.
  3. Make sure you can keep all of these insights & scores up to date (real-time if need be!) and at your fingertips ready to use. You can’t act quickly if you need to “double check that”.
  4. Did I mention testing and iterating?

Collecting data isn’t the be-all and end-all of effective marketing. It’ll get you 5% of the way. But your success really lies in the other 95%, which takes insight, forethought and a willingness to learn. Find yourself a partner who can deliver that perspective for you.

About Natalie McCrae

Natalie McCrae is a CRM and communications professional with experience that spans multiple industries including retail, financial services and entertainment. Passionate about relationships and innovation, She has dedicated most of her working career to not only building a successful CRM business in South Africa, but also helping to progress the way the industry as a whole sees itself. Natalie brings a fresh perspective, a level-headed approach and quality insights into every challenge she faces and helping her clients overcome complex business challenges in this way just adds more fuel to her passion as she moves from one success to the next.

About Keystone Consulting

At Keystone, we live our philosophy of building relationships. We live and breathe CRM and we’re excited about where CRM is going in the near future - and we’re just excited to take our clients on the journey with us.

Keystone provides a mix of international and local experience, across many different industry sectors from financial services, retail and video entertainment. We’ve been instrumental in developing award-winning loyalty and CRM programmes for South African and international brands that have not only seen amazing return on investment but built loyal and satisfied customer bases.

We combine strategic, creative, technical and analytics skills to work alongside your teams to help you meet your business objectives.

With Keystone as your CRM partner, you’ll get to know your customers intimately; you’ll know what they’re thinking, how they behave, and what decisions they’re likely to make based on solid data, collected and analysed from a host of different sources.

You’ll be able to make quick, informed decisions as your circumstances change, or plan more effectively for longer-term growth.