Digital Essays 2023: Why people-first, not programmatic-first, is the key to growth

Customer experience is often overlooked to the detriment of long-term relationships and commercial opportunities, argues Epsilon’s Elliot Clayton

As advertising becomes increasingly programmatically-led, the concept of the customer as a real person is being marginalised.

However, to be successful, people must be at the centre. Do this, and reach grows, loyalty is nurtured and profits rise. Ignore this, and you’ll fail to maximise your growth potential. 

With that mainstay of data-driven marketing dying – the third-party cookie – brands are scrambling around for a replacement, often turning to contextual targeting or Google and Meta’s audiences.

But there’s a better option that heralds a better future – focusing on identity anchored around real people. 

Having proper foundational data points rather than assumptions or proxies changes the nature of your marketing. Suddenly, your digital advertising becomes a truly addressable media.

And building insights around understanding real people means you can drive relevant, valuable, engaging messaging through personalisation across owned and paid channels.

In adopting this approach, issues around remaining relevant and delivering outcomes in a cookieless
world disappear. 

People, personalisation and profit  

Investing time and effort to understand people as individuals not only shows them respect – it also builds trust. Being recognised as a real person is what people crave.

Buyers want brands to deliver them a personalised experience, and by doing so, 80 per cent are more likely to want to do business with them. 

It’s also profitable. McKinsey found that if you get the personal touch right, businesses can reduce acquisition costs by up to 50 per cent.

Not only that, but those companies also delivering personalised communications are boosting their revenues by up to 40 per cent.

There’s an enormous performance gap between businesses investing in personalisation marketing and those taking a more mass-market approach, believing personalisation at scale isn’t possible.

Successful, profitable companies are showing it is. 

Marketers know this, but it’s easier said than done. In a survey of UAE marketing specialists, 71 per cent stated the biggest challenge in leveraging data is integrating it from multiple platforms and systems.

That’s why choosing the right partner to help is so important.       

Understanding who you’re talking to and what people want transforms your customer relationships. Suddenly, you can connect with them at an emotional level.

Bland, impersonal, and distracting ads are replaced with engaging, personal messaging that resonates and inspires.

Weak third-party signals that make digital advertising a soft channel with questionable value are substituted with powerful, data-led ones, which make advertising a hard channel that drives clear incremental business outcomes. 

If you’re asking customers to engage with you and offer up their data, you need the ability to collect it, and there must be a value exchange.

This is the premise for any loyalty programme. In arming you with information about themselves, customers will expect you to communicate with them as individuals, at the very least.

As you use your insights to deliver ever more personalised experiences and offers they can’t get elsewhere, their engagement and loyalty will deepen, expressing itself in incremental growth.     

Retail media is relationship media  

The primacy of people-driven marketing is reflected in retail media.

Increasingly, retailers are recognising that their relationship with their buyers is much more than just a transactional one. The actual value of an individual customer is the relationship itself. It’s because of this connection that brands want to invest in retail media.

By advertising on a retailer’s site, brands can benefit from the inherent trust in the customer/retailer relationship.

In doing so, they gain greater value than advertising in standard environments, while selling this relationship is markedly more profitable for retailers than encouraging customers to buy.

In effect, retailers are becoming publishers, selling eyeballs and customer understanding, all built on first-party data.  

Tech-driven not tech-led

The complexities of collecting, understanding, and activating data means technology is essential. Its value is as an enabler and delivery tool.

Currently, too much emphasis is placed on technology. In striving for ever-greater efficiencies and automation, the customer experience is overlooked to the detriment of long-term relationships and commercial opportunities.

Marketers have strayed too far into the realms of technologists. A rebalance is needed so they rediscover creativity and how to engage with people effectively.  

Today, customers want and expect brand interactions and those that do it well will grow. There’s enormous potential here, but it requires a back-to-basics approach.

Rather than brands claiming to be customer-centric, they must prove it by approaching marketing as a people-first dialogue, not a monologue. Do so, and they will flourish. 

What’s the alternative to people-based marketing?

It’s relying on the walled gardens. Inevitably, brands will have to sacrifice their valuable data in exchange for renting eyeballs to drive their business, and this isn’t a sustainable long-term success strategy.

By Elliot Clayton,  MD Epsilon EMEA