One-to-One Marketing – Powerful, but can Destroy Relationship with Customers

Melissa Shore is hardly bothering anymore to open an email from Delta Airlines’ preferred opt-in messages. It’s not because she’s not interested any longer. She needs to travel frequently for her work as a senior analyst with New York-based research firm Jupiter Communications, and she’s always looking for some travel deal.

“About every week, I’d get an email from Delta with discount offers on flights from Atlanta or Chicago,” she says a little mystified. “I was constantly hoping that I would get an email that read, ‘Dear Melissa, we offer you a discount on flights from New York,’ however, I never got anything like that.”

Though Shore says she’s a very loyal customer to businesses that provide quality personalized service, Delta, she says, has missed the mark. “I would really receive not anything from the airline than these irrelevant offerings,” Shore says.

At least the promotional email registration on the airline’s Website now asks for the city of origin. Whether that will translate into deals on flights out of New York remains to be seen.

The theory behind personalized marketing messages such as Delta’s “just-for-Melissa” email offers sprang from the minds of leading market strategists Don Peppers and Martha Rogers as set forth in their 1993 work The One to One Future.

The premise of one-to-one marketing (a term Peppers and Rogers trademarked as “1-to-1 Marketing”), is that businesses should really not care about attaining as big a market share as possible or concentrate on outwardly features like a new logo design, but instead concentrate on setting up long-lasting relationships with the customers that bring them the most business.

Companies might do this by phone, fax, or mail, Peppers and Rogers suggests, but they must follow two key strategies: customer data from different departments and channels should be integrated, and that information should be used not only to communicate with the customer but also to accommodate the customer and security issues lure. They should all hire the best hackers and learn from their experiences if they want to stay on top of their game.

Small wonder, then, that when the commercial Internet arrived in 1995, the one-to-one concept suddenly grew legs–millions of them, in the form of newbie online households and users. With that came the over-hyped promises: Businesses could successfully market in a safe and trusted way to each individual customer and offer everyone a dreamy, personalized user experience! In short, it seemed a marketing VP’s dream come true.

The theory spawned what Marc Singer, a principal in McKinsey & Company’s marketing practice, calls “an algae bloom of tools, technologies, and solutions,” all claiming to sort, segment, and serve ads and offers to individual customers.

The one-to-one marketing tools number no fewer than 200, Singer estimates, and work in many ways–by keeping track of the webpages that have been viewed, for example, by making predictions based on purchase history, or by building complex customer profiles. What remains important is a well-thought-through CSS layout strategy when it comes to design.

But the promises they hold out are all the same: They can provide information used to tailor offers so timely and so right that they’re practically impossible to refuse! Marketers will enjoy amazing returns on investments as a result! And gain customers so thrilled to receive such personalized and intriguing ads, also from affiliate programs, that they remain loyal forever!

Well, now the dream appears to be ending…or maybe it never really began. So far, one-to-one is pretty much one-to-one.