Automating the Personal

May 9, 2012 Chris Miller

Writing a personal note to each of your customers probably isn’t in the cards (at Christmas, or otherwise), unless you’re in a very small business selling big ticket items to very few people. And frankly, our customers tend to have customer bases in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, so handwriting is out. So if we want to get to a level of meaningful personalization, automation will clearly play a big role in getting us closer to the nirvana of one-to-one communication.

Interestingly enough, in my Internet security days in the early 2000’s (product managers tend to traverse markets!), virus writers faced a similar problem. Their intended victims (their “customers”) just weren’t opening emails anymore, let alone clicking attachments with painful  consequences. Sure, some opened email and clicked the payload that promised riches and cool things, only to wreak havoc on their computers, but increasingly fewer were doing it.

Like any good marketer, success  for the virus writer is measured by the impact of their activities on their target audience — basically, by the number of eyeballs that notice and take advantage of a compelling “call to action”.  Blasting the same email out to millions of recipients from the same obscure address made it obvious to most people (eventually) that it wasn’t worth the time and effort.  It also made filtering out bad stuff a lot easier (both for the recipient, as well as for we security providers).

So, virus writers being who they are, knew innovation was key to survival in a world where their consumers were becoming increasingly savvy and sensitive to volumes of noise and the dangers of promiscuous clicking.   The virus writer’s “innovation” was to recognize how important relevance and personalization was to breaking through the clutter.

Their response?  Starting with the infamous “I LOVE YOU” virus, malicious payloads would no longer just bring a system to a crawl or simply destroy data, they also compromised the victim’s computer and forced that system to send very personal-looking messages to friends and family of the victim — usually unbeknownst to the victim.  They also tricked the victim’s victim into opening the message (“She LOVES me?!”) and executing the next payload.  Each successful flurry of emails would beget a new wave of personal-looking emails — fully-automated and way out of control.  Virus-writers also changed the channel of delivery and nature of the payload from a nasty attachment to an interesting hyperlink, as it was easier (and at one point, less dangerous) for the “customer” to click on one.  The result? A new tsunami of viruses,  worms, and malicious code that continues to plague us today.

Unlike the virus writer, you the marketer have an established, trusted relationship with your customers, and you have a reputation to keep and loyalty to maintain, but you do share the challenge of making your messages more personal, relevant and impactful, en masse. And like the virus writer, you’ll need to automate to make it happen.

More on that later.

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