Personalising Beyond [FNAME] in Ecommerce: an Interview With Ira Wichmann

Posted by Huw Jenkins 26 Jan 16

shutterstock_322991297.pngDo you remember being forced to shake the hand of that annoying acquaintance from uni with the sweaty palms...and they dare to forget your name?

No one can deny the bitter sting of being unknown - especially by THAT guy.

In the age of programmatic advertising, shoppers are all-too-often reduced to digital cookies on a screen: so how do marketers begin to create meaningful connections?

We spoke to the wonderful Ira Wichmann, Head of Loyalty at Lost My Name, about taking online marketing beyond the simple ‘Insert [FNAME]’ into the new age of ecommerce personalisation.

From the next-level opportunities of direct mail to taking personalisation off-channel and into the real world, enjoy!

Will ‘contextual shopping’ trump personalisation in the coming years?

Ira: Contextual is part of being personal. Becoming contextual is about becoming better at being personal. Personal isn't just about ‘hey [FNAME]’.

Personalisation is about figuring out what your customers want, then giving them something that is completely created for them, because you know something about them (and care).

Yeah, I think contextual shopping is powerful, however personalisation requires you to make content that’s specific to that person: which is special and meaningful, something that contextual shopping just doesn’t offer.

We as shoppers want the personal touch and to be more than just a by-product of real time bidding.

How can personalisation inspire content experiences that transcend platforms?

Ira: We at Lost My Name are an interesting example of this. We have a physical product that’s personalised online. A completely online user experience with a physical product at the end.

Buying one of our products is an amazing journey of discovery. Watching your product being born through your computer screen inspires a really strong connection through a really connected online/offline experience, helping the customer feel part of the process and its delivery.

Our book is essentially a piece of software, put together based on a child’s name. What’s interesting is how we use that information. By the time we’ve made a book, we’re left with a tonne of great information that can help our future targeting.

We can take the data collected during the product-building process and use it in our Direct Mail (DM) blast, for example.

So, what’s the coolest piece of personalised marketing you’ve seen recently?

Ira: I’m a sucker for handwritten notes and anything created just for me. I shopped for Christmas presents at a new online shop called Department Store for the Mind (quite late in the game).

I bought a couple of presents for family and friends, and with my delivery I received a handwritten note saying “thank you for being one of our first customers, we really appreciate the support”, complete with an extra little present inside.

That really made an impact, especially in the build up to Christmas, as I’m sure it’s probably their busiest sales period. I really appreciated that they took the time to produce an authentic and meaningful token of gratitude just for me.

I believe in automation, but I also believe in companies wondering, ‘what would actually make people happy?’. Content served by machines obviously has a high impact on ROI, but it’s time to take it to the next-level.

How’re you making your customers happy?

Ira: What I’d like to do pretty soon is a ‘random act of kindness’ programme, where we post really nice physical pieces to completely random customers or people who have engaged on social. Just because you can’t do ‘everyone, every time’ doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something.

Scaling up shouldn’t mean avoiding or forgetting about next-level personalised content, a company should always be hyper aware of cultivating strong human connections with their customers.

We all know email is awesome. What's another channel you love for delivering personalised campaigns?

Ira: Email is my favourite channel, but I’m really starting to focus on DM. It’s a really nice channel for moving the relationship offline and (quite literally) into the real life sphere of our customers.

Personalisation in direct mail has always been happening: but creating content that is just for them is relatively untapped - and an area I’m exploring.

I did a really cool DM test this Christmas with a small number of clients (5,000 people). We delivered Christmas cards for customers who bought books for their children. The DM contained a card that featured artwork rendered on the child’s name, based on information collected in the product-building process.  

Actually creating something that’s unique to the customer is challenging. But we’re in the business of personalisation, so in my mind we can’t do anything less than that. We want to do things that make people go, ‘how did they do that?’.

So, what’s been your favourite next-level campaign?

Ira: If you want to go next-level, we sent a book into space. Our new book The Incredible Intergalactic Journey Home (about a child and robot lost in outer space finding their way home) is personalised based on the child’s home address. We pull in images of the child’s home address: using pictures of their actual house.

After launching a competition with a pro-literacy charity called Story Time From Space, we found Roraigh (a seven-year-old from Manchester), and we sent that book, him, along with his parents to Cape Canaveral in Florida to the Nasa Space Centre. That book went into a rocket that went to the International Space Station, where we got an astronaut to read Roraigh’s book to him via video link from space.

I know it’s not really relevant to personalisation in your CRM programme, but taking inspiration from our space project, ecommerce retailers really can deliver personalised content and experiences that go beyond the channel.

Personalised content that puts the customer at the heart of the content, that lives in their real lives, not just on a screen, is the the future.

How do you measure the success of your personalised campaigns?

Ira: There’s this middle ground in between marketing and product - we want our marketing to feel so good that it feels like product. The DM piece (mentioned above) was an example of an attempt to do something like that - giving the customer something they feel is valuable.

We sent this campaign to 5,000 people, and we measured the impact of the cohort that received the mailing Vs a cohort that didn’t receive the mailing.  

We had double the conversions with the cohort that received the mail compared to the cohort that didn’t - based on that we can see that this test inspired people to buy books. We actually got people emailing us to thank us for the piece of marketing that we sent.

So, that’s the level of marketing you want to achieve, a two-way relationship thankful for each other.

We’re still tracking this cohort over time to see whether they’re more active on-site and via email than before to measure the success of our DM. However, it’s hard to look at these things in isolation: one DM campaign at one point in time is unlikely to change a person's behaviour all that much beyond that point. 

What I’m going to start doing is incorporating more DM into the whole CRM cycle, keeping a 20% control that will be DM-less to explore the impact over an extended period of time.

How are you using personalisation to capitalise on the all important post-purchase window of opportunity?

Ira: We’ve got two main products: so the main aim is for people to buy both.

During the purchasing process we glean a lot of information about our customer (age, hair colour, gender etc) I’ll be using personalisation in 2016 to maximise the cross-sell opportunity based on this information.

Using email and DM based on characteristics and preferences, we will market the next book - combining the worlds of the books - physically showing what it would look like, pre-personalising the product for the customer to show what they would be doing. I think that’s a really powerful way to engage our customers.

Although it’s really hard, I see no reason why pre-personalising a product based on your customers past preferences can’t become more integral to future marketing strategies.

For example, if you’re a cosmetics company and you know your customers’ hair colour: show them the eye shadows and lipsticks that suit their hair, through the power of visual.

It’s not easy, but it could be done.

Ira Wichmann interview on personalisation Ira is head of loyalty at Lost My Name - a London-based full-stack publishing company that combines the power of stories with the possibilities of technology to create magical, personalised experiences that help make kids around the world more clever, curious and kind.

Topics: Ecommerce personalisation

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