Asking questions and letting your audience define the solutions is a good way to start personalising your content, says UNILAD’s Kevin Tewis-Allen and SocialOptic.com’s Benjamin Ellis. 

25th May 2017

The way to make people happy is not to give them the best environment, but to give them a sense of control of their environment. 



What if you could please all of the people all of the time?

That was the question Kevin Tewis-Allen, global director of business development (music and entertainment) at UNILAD, asked at the latest Aspic event, organised by Sequel, on personalised communication.

In reality, personalisation isn’t quite capable of pleasing everyone, but, Kevin argues, by being brave and sticking to your core values you can certainly reach a large share.

“There is so much noise around PR, comms, social media and online, and it’s not easy to break through that,” he says. “You need to create ‘Wow!’ moments. That attitude can fire up your team. If you don’t try, you’ll end up with something boring that won’t hit the mark.

“Not all customer groups will like it, but if you can get 85 per cent of people to like it, that’s great.”

Kevin laid out his guiding principles for any project. Firstly, he said, contextualisation is key. Ask yourself how you have come to the decisions you’ve made around your project. Before you start with the aims and objectives, study the background and ask yourself how you arrived at the brief. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a project before you’ve got under the skin of your business and established if the project is necessary.


Pull at the heartstrings

Managing risk, Kevin adds, never gets enough attention. Focus groups and marketing research are critical for personalisation – they can confirm your insights into what that audience wants.

Kevin gave a timely example of how targeting audience segments through social media was critical to the Conservatives winning the last general election. Rather than going straight into the minutiae of budgets and policies, the party had a dialogue with people on Facebook, asking relevant questions – for instance, when would you like to own a home? – so that when the policies were released later, the issues resonated.

“The political parties have to pull at the heartstrings,” says Kevin. “If they assumed what millennials want, I’d be worried. It’s good to ask questions.”

And keep asking questions. Robust measurement pre, during and post campaign activity gives you key reporting data to share with your leadership team.

“Be 100 per cent brand safe,” says Kevin. “Don’t take an opinion. Let your audience have the opinion.”

In internal comms, you can also use Facebook to personalise your approach to projects, for example through private groups with a dozen or so colleagues.

“I try and take the conversation off email,” says Kevin. “I like to meet people and personalise meetings.”

Though Kevin admits he is using WhatsApp more than ever – in a business context to discuss key projects and campaigns. “The conversation can get colourful,” he admits. “Instead of using WhatsApp for banter, it becomes a platform for honest discussion – and then we go back to email to formalise the points.”


Avoid isolating your audience

Benjamin Ellis, CEO of SocialOptic.com, believes communication is about negotiating meaning – getting what’s in your head into someone else’s.

“It doesn’t move like freight or computer data,” he reflects. “I colour it with me and when it arrives with you, you colour it with a little bit of you. That’s the problem with internal communication and broadcast comms. We don’t get to negotiate the meaning.”

Echoing Kevin’s earlier point, Benjamin told the Aspic audience: “With external communication, you’re targeting a specific part of your audience and if you alienate another part, that’s OK. You don’t have to appeal to them, as you don’t to.” 

In internal communication, that’s not a good strategy, he considers. “You need everyone. Sending different messages to different people can polarise your audience. You don’t want that internally. You don’t want to isolate people.”

Personalisation illuminates overspray,” says Benjamin. “It ensures that the communication reaching each person is targeted and not wasted. Broadcast media causes overspray, as it often reaches beyond our intended audience.”


Move from channels to flows

The changing nature of how organisations’ employees collaborate also means teams need to rethink how messages are divided up. The traditional structural shapes may not be relevant – if they ever were. Most global organisations have an EMEA region, even though the culture and technologies can vary wildly between offices in France, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. In today’s project teams, people work horizontally across organisations. Internal communities don’t always map to a function or org chart.

That doesn’t mean you should dismantle your traditional broadcast comms. You still need them, but Benjamin advises to make the shift from channels to flows. “Layer your large-scale comms with information that needs to get from A to B. Build two-way flows and understand who’s adding value and where it lands – and you’ll become a very important person in your organisation.”

Why do organisations even want to personalize their messages? Engagement. “The biggest challenges for organisation is getting people committed, increasing productivity, reducing turnover, and getting buy-in to the brand and values,” says Benjamin. “Personalisation can transform an organisation if done well. You’re tapping into psychological needs.

“The way to make people happy is not to give them the best environment, but to give them a sense of control of their environment. Let them choose their workstations and tools. Give them autonomy over the environment – and don’t kill that by wrapping it in process, by saying they can design their workstations, but they have to do it within X, Y and Z rules.”

It’s the difference between taxonomies, where you try to put things in boxes, and folksonomies, where you let the users define the boxes.

And this goes beyond the working environment to more simple methods of personalising content – whether staff receive messages by text, email or print, and if they are addressed by name or “Dear colleague”; whether the font size is large or small.

It’s a psychological trick, he continues. “We own the decisions we make. If you’ve said you want your car in a certain blue, to say that you don’t like it when it turns up is to say you’ve made a mistake.

“If you give people control, they will accept the flaws. If you have a low-budget option that’s been customised, it’s fine. If people are going to receive a one-off, they’ll expect it to be perfect.”

The way to make people happy is not to give them the best environment, but to give them a sense of control of their environment. 



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