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

Melissa Shore hardly bothers to open email from Delta Airlines’ preferred opt-in list anymore. It’s not because she’s not interested. She travels a lot in her work as a senior analyst with New York-based research firm Jupiter Communications, and she’s always looking for travel deals.

“Every week, I’d get another email from Delta offering discounts on flights from Chicago or Atlanta,” she says, mystified. “I kept hoping to receive a message that read, ‘Melissa, we’ve got discounts on these trips leaving from New York,’ but I never have.”

Though Shore says she’s a very loyal customer to businesses that provide quality personalized service, Delta, she says, has missed the mark. “I’d rather not get anything from them than get something that’s not relevant,” 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 “1to1 Marketing”), is that businesses should forget about gaining as much market share as they can, or concentrate on outwardly features like a new logo design, but concentrate instead on building sustained relationships with their top customers.

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.

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.