Published November 10, 2021
Nearly every afternoon, I walk to a local smoothie shop in downtown Denver, Colorado, and belly up to the counter for lunch.
The store manager greets me by name. If I comment on how sweet and ripe the strawberries look, she offers me a sample of her latest drink that spotlights the ingredient. She knows my interests and can recommend events happening later in the week that I might enjoy.
This is one-to-one marketing in a nutshell. It’s basically a conversation between you and your customer that lets you serve them better.
Digital one-to-one marketing uses individual customer actions—links they’ve clicked, survey answers they’ve provided, emails they’ve opened, or products they’ve bought—to have that same personal conversation at scale, sometimes with millions of customers.
The pandemic altered the way customers interact with brands. Now’s the time to create a one-to-one marketing strategy since more of these conversations are happening digitally. However, properly starting a one-to-one marketing strategy will require marketing teams to re-examine their customers and their needs, then work hand in hand with other divisions within their company to meet those needs.
It feels like there’s been a revolution in the last 18 months. There is greater potential for one-to-one marketing than ever because nearly every business went digital. They had to, to survive.
Greater digital adoption by both businesses and customers means there are more ways to strike up a conversation and learn about the people buying your products.
For example, when a visitor comes to your site, a chatbot can act just like the front desk clerk in a physical store. These bots can help answer questions, book services and point visitors to helpful resources. Only one in five hospitality businesses are using a chatbot, but nearly half are working on adding this technology to their marketing toolkit, according to a recent Adobe survey.
A one-to-one marketing strategy hinges on continually learning about your customers. Just like restaurant servers know their regulars and make recommendations based on their preferences, your website can make product suggestions based on actions visitors take. Actions can include pages they view, items they click or purchases they’ve made.
The one-to-one marketing game doesn’t end after visitors leave your website. Think about how a merchant at a local shop greets customers by name, or asks how that last product they purchased is working out. Strategies like personalized emails and post-purchase surveys fulfill the same purpose, helping you continue to improve customer service on an individual level.
Each of these digital channels allows you to build profiles of individual customers. Each new interaction then becomes more personalized than the last. And it can be done at a scale impossible to manage in the physical world.
You likely already have the ingredients for an effective one-to-one marketing strategy. It’s a matter of combining them to create a delicious recipe.
Much of the information you’ll need you’ve hopefully already built, and that marketing strategy will feed into your one-to-one marketing strategy.
The more you know where customers find you—whether a website, social media, a mobile app or an e-newsletter—the easier it will be to decide where to invest in tools to personalize their experiences on those channels.
And the deeper you understand the needs of customers, the more effectively you can speak to them on those channels. These conversations will give even greater insight into their motivations and how you can guide them to better solutions for their challenges.
You can take the personas you’ve developed around your customer base and start sharpening the focus on those segments. Then drill down closer and closer to the individual level.
The right tool for gaining these insights depends on the results you want to drive. You may decide to use personalized emails to drive website traffic or apps that can direct customers to the store that’s nearest their location. You can also bring customer service support to social media to increase engagement.
Start with the technology you have when considering a one-to-one marketing strategy.
For example, your restaurant point-of-sale system can be a workhorse for your data collection operations, filling in details about your customer’s name, location, purchase history and how often they purchase.
Not everybody has the same resources as a multinational corporation. For some businesses, one-to-one marketing looks like a couple of lines in an email that are specific to an item your customer is interested in. This is a great start.
As time, budget and staffing allow, that data can be the foundation of a one-to-one strategy that encompasses your website, too. Social media monitoring tools and other strategies, like gated content that elicits information from visitors before allowing them to download the content, can bolster the data you collect from other sources.
Marketers are wired to move fast, but right now, marketers have to be in listen-and-learn mode. It’s all hands on deck right now for every brand.
You may have a fantastic new promotion you want to launch to drive people to your stores. Talk with the human resources department first to ensure the staff is available because many industries are facing a turbulent labor shortage.
Marketers also need to speak with the logistics team to understand what inventory looks like as supply chain disruptions continue to wreak havoc on businesses.
One-to-one marketing can help match customers to the areas of the business currently equipped to meet that demand. For example, drive demand to e-commerce in regions with stricter public health restrictions. Or encourage customers toward products that are in stock versus products you have low inventory of.
You want to surprise and delight, not surprise and disappoint, so think about what you can realistically offer.
It's been a year of life-changing events: sociopolitical unrest, a pandemic, climate change. All these things the last 18 months have been intense. The people walking into your doors or visiting your website may not see the world the same way they did; their values may have changed.
That means the listen-and-learn mode one-to-one marketers must adopt internally applies externally, too.
Marketers must re-engage with customers regularly. A snapshot of a customer right now isn’t enough. The world is changing daily.
It’s important to meet customers where they are. Use your digital toolbox of one-to-one marketing tools to find out whether customers want to visit the store, engage online or open an app.
All the segmentation research, all the empathy mapping marketing teams do—it’s time to do it again. Have conversations with your customers daily, right now, about their comfort levels and their preferences.
Stabilization could still be a little way off. That makes the ability to have honest conversations with individual customers regularly even more important.
Those conversations may not lead to sales right away, but they build trust with customers. One-to-one marketing also generates a consistent feedback loop between your company and your customers to make sure you can meet their changing needs.
It’s just like the merchant in Denver who, by asking me how my weekend was when I stop in for a smoothie, is building a relationship that lasts.
Revenue and margin are important, but the big thing right now is to weather the storm. To do that, understand your capabilities and your customers’ needs, then build a strategy to match.