Dear Algorithms: how to make me love your brand all over again

March 5, 2019


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Martin Newman

By Martin Newman

The Consumer Champion


Dear online retailers, we’ve had fun together. Honestly, there are times when I know that my wardrobe wouldn’t be the same without you. Which is why it makes it really hard to see you misjudge what I want from you. How long have we been seeing each other? A decade, maybe more? So why are you advertising Triple Girl-Gloss Shine Serum™ to me when you have enough data on me to make a Martin clone?

Is this not driven by what I search for? If so, I should be in control of the output.

I’ll never understand why companies don’t invest more in consumer-facing algorithms. It benefits you (I’m far more likely to buy men’s trainers than a Barbie light-up tutu) and it benefits me (I’m far less annoyed by ads that are actually relevant to me). If nothing else, think about how your consumer experiences the process of being advertised to. Because when brands do it well, they do it really well. Case in point: Etsy.

Etsy.com is a pretty solid idea. In a world where everything is built in factories, advertised by algorithm and sold by a robot, supporting individual craftspeople for something treasured and unique through an easy online platform goes down a treat with millennials who can no longer experience that sort of individualism from small businesses on our high streets (looking right at you, local councils). Tapping into that desire to be different and self express is a killer move. But it’s not unique for doing that. What’s different about Etsy is that their website and algorithms are super slick (no, I’m not being paid to say that).

If you search for a lamp, you aren’t given the standard ‘price’ and ‘colour’ options. Etsy has sneakily allowed you to click a range of materials, sizes, eras and styles that billow into dozens of options. And then it remembers. As a bloke, never has Etsy ever tried to flog me fuchsia stilettos two days after trying to find a man’s coat. What a relief. And Etsy’s doing very well off the back of that, with revenue hitting a massive $200m. Not bad for a business that is mostly flogging friendship bracelets.

Remembering customers is not something that stops at brick-and-mortar channels: just as you wouldn’t advise a shop assistant to attempt to hard-sell skiwear to someone buying a tennis racket, you should remember that when you go online. It would be irritating, weird and jarring. I don’t want an email on your lipstick sale; nor do I want to be harassed with YouTube adverts for the latest PlayMobil set.

So much of the knowledge we gather through in-store customer service is just as applicable online: you need to be able to get around easily, find what you are looking to buy, easily pay for it and feel that any complaints are heard – and acted on. We have the data and tech to make all of these problems almost evaporate if we think about them.

So treat your website and ads in the same way you would of your store or billboard:

With your consumer in mind.


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