Birds eye view

Can Thoughtful Marketing cut through in a world of personalised marketing?

By Emily Shaw, Senior Digital Account Manager

Thoughtful marketing is a movement that has been rapidly growing over the last few years, thanks in part to work done by Bloom and Wild and similar companies to bring sensitivity back into the marketing world. 

The ‘hard sell’ may still be the preferred method of many to drive performance, but testing by Bloom and Wild shows that a sensitive touch may benefit both business and consumer more. Their sample data shows that the lifetime value of customers who choose to opt out of marketing for sensitive occasions such as Mother’s Day when presented with the opportunity is 1.7x that of non-opted-out customers. 

So, thoughtful marketing could be a lucrative approach. But how does this fit into a world where personalisation is becoming a crucial and unavoidable part of marketing? 

What is thoughtful marketing? 

Thoughtful marketing is a term coined by advertisers who choose to take more consideration into the feelings of their customers and put the customer first. One of the most common forms of thoughtful advertising is providing the option to opt out of marketing relating to specific occasions that can be difficult for some due to personal circumstances – most commonly Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day. 

Thoughtful marketing can also extend to the approach taken through paid media, outside of CRM automation – brands can consider whether the creative and messaging they use in advertising for sensitive occasions and topics takes the correct tone. 

Arguably, the increasingly culturally sensitive approach to advertising taken by marketers in recent years is also an extension of the thoughtful marketing movement outside of these key calendar moments. A more sensitive approach to marketing around specific moments can seem false or opportunistic if brands communicate differently for the remainder of the year or come across as culturally insensitive. 

Beyond taking a more human approach and avoiding upsetting prospective customers, this can also be a driver of increased brand loyalty – as Bloom and Wild’s testing shows. If consumers feel respected and well-treated by a brand they purchase from, they are more likely to choose the same brand the next time they need a similar product. 

What is personalisation? 

Personalisation is advertising tailored to the individual. Personalisation is arguably the fastest-growing and increasingly the most important part of advertising. 72% of consumers say they only engage with personalised messaging from advertisers (SmarterHQ), whilst 57% are willing to exchange personal data for personalised messaging/discounts (Salesforce). 

Personalisation can come through messaging, creative approach, tailored recommendations, assisted search and more. Increasingly, this is executed through artificial intelligence and machine learning rather than manually. 

Brands have seen AI improve their ad personalisation beyond levels achievable by more traditional marketing methods. For example, drinks brand Diageo adopted an AI creative data platform to review the effectiveness of their digital content and saw their CPMs drop by 50% (The Drum). In a world where advertising inventory is becoming increasingly expensive, AI has changed the game of personalisation.

How might personalisation harm the thoughtful marketing movement? 

It’s this AI/machine learning approach to personalisation that could be damaging to marketers trying to take a more thoughtful approach to their advertising. For example, if an individual has chosen to opt out of Mother’s Day emails, but the same brand is targeting them on social with ads for this occasion, the work done to build brand loyalty through thoughtful marketing could be damaged. 

The risk is that personalisation through AI does not understand the necessity of sensitivity in certain contexts. For example, suppose AI predicts that a creative featuring a Mother’s Day offer will most likely drive a sale through someone with a specific audience profile; it will serve that creative to that individual regardless of their feelings. We use personalisation to drive better results, and often this does not consider the individual. 

AI is also designed to maximise profits for businesses, and tests on the profitability of thoughtful marketing thus far have been on small scales. So what happens if the least sensitive approach drives the most profitable route for a business? 

If someone has opted out of emails about Mother’s Day but is being served ads tailored to this occasion, the attempt to build brand loyalty through thoughtful marketing is damaged. 

There’s also a danger that personalisation may be perceived as an overextension of the power of brands. Though consumers are keen to see an element of personalisation, ads becoming too tailored to the individual run the risk of damaging trust between brand and consumer. 

However, this risk can be mitigated by synching CRM exclusion lists to marketing channels, and we can go further towards a coordinated and cross-channel approach to thoughtful marketing. 

Could personalisation aid the thoughtful marketing movement? 

Despite the potential risk that personalisation in advertising poses to the thoughtful marketing movement, there are also huge prospective gains in using the two approaches together. 

Thoughtful marketing could become an extension of personalisation. For example, activity can be tailored more to the individual than the occasion, where brands serve ads to individuals relating to the occasions that matter to them.  Targeting consumers with advertising for occasions they cannot buy into could be upsetting and a waste of media budget.   

If, as studies show, consumers prefer personalised marketing and are more loyal customers to companies taking a more thoughtful, considerate approach to marketing, there is an argument that a balance is needed between the two. 

Can we strike a balance? 

The last few years have necessitated a shift in tone and sensitivity in advertising. A global pandemic, straight into a cost of living crisis, means that brands have been compelled to consider far more about how they approach prospective or repeat customers or risk being perceived as distant and disjointed. 

A level of urgent, impersonal approach no longer feels appropriate in many situations. This is where a balance between personalisation and thoughtful marketing becomes crucial. Without one perfect formula, this balance will vary between every brand and advertiser. Product, time of year and current context must all be considered, but being able to strike a balance between personal and thoughtful marketing will enable advertisers to maximise their profits over a difficult period in a way that many competitors will not be able to.