I’m just going to put this out there. Being bald means I don’t have much call for visiting the hairdresser.

So when a hand delivered, photocopied leaflet dropped through my front door from a local hairdressers recently, it highlighted the marketing pitfalls associated with a lack of targeting or personalisation – particularly with a customer base that now lives firmly in the digital age.

Of course, the hairdresser’s leaflets won’t only have reached bald men. They may well have reached plenty of suitable potential customers. But crucially, they will have reached many other people who simply don’t require the hairdresser’s service – like those who only visit barbers or others who are happy customers of other salons and aren’t prepared to move.

Worst of all, it will have reached a group of people who shun “junk mail” by putting it straight in the bin unread.

The result of this is at best a campaign with limited success that hasn’t been maximised, or at worst a campaign that delivers a very poor return on investment. Neither of which, in a competitive environment and with budget constraints, is ideal.

Finally, perhaps the biggest pitfall is a lack of marketing intelligence that can be gleaned from this rather basic campaign. Sure, the hairdresser could ask any new customers how they heard of them and if the leaflet came up they might feel inclined to pat themselves on the back.

But without any further information on the customer this would represent a largely useless insight because the next leaflet drop would effectively start back at square one, scatter gunning news of their service towards a market only defined by basic geography.

Perhaps surprisingly, its not just old fashioned direct marketing that suffers from this inability to reach the right customers in the way they want to be reached:

Digital solutions, familiar pitfalls

As most people know, digital advertising has enabled even the smallest businesses to target and segment potential customers. Google’s ever improving range of advertising options, and more specifically AdWords, aim to deliver targeted customers to a website in a way that is measurable and results driven.

Nothing new there, and of course the bigger your business, the bigger your marketing budget is likely to be to spend on such a strategy. But, what happens when the user begins to “switch off” from these digital messages?

Many people – millions even, myself included – routinely bypass the sponsored content that forms a part of any Google search. The authenticity of the search, rather than the appearance of those AdWord-driven interlopers, holds more sway in many user’s eyes.

Similarly, banner advertising has plenty of critics. The sight of a pair of shoes or a shed or cat food in a banner ad weeks after you’ve purchased something independently or offline on the back of a quick Google Search is more than a little irritating. Hubspot cheekily suggest that we’re more likely to scale Everest or complete Navy Seal training than click on banner advertising.

On a more serious note, they also point out that while the average person is served over 1,700 banner ads per month, the average click through rate of display ads stands at just 0.1%, with 50% of banner ad clicks on mobile devices reported to be made by mistake. Of course, banners are still effective given the sheer volume of users that pass through Google. But for how long?

Social selling

With all the social networks exploring how to ingrain purchasing into their offering – such as Twitter’s exploration of the “Buy” button, clearly an opportunity exists for companies to drive revenue from on the social networks. As Domino’s playful experiment of social purchasing via their emoji-led Easy Order pilot in the US shows, there is both a commercial angle to this and marketing story to be created around such innovation.


And yet. The jury is still out. No one really knows if there’s an appetite (no pun intended) for pizzas that turn up when you tweet emojis at @Dominos. Is it just a gimmick or a marketing line? Quite possibly.

The simplicity of clicking a buy button on a tweet is seriously compelling and yet major flaws exist with that too. Do users, fearful of missing a bargain, have to follow every brand they might want to buy from for example? And will those same users end up deeply frustrated by their social feed becoming a scrolling Tottenham Court Road – with offer after offer drowning out the social content they signed up to the network for in the first place? More than likely.

Modern personalisation

So if digital advertising and social selling have their flaws is there another way? Modern personalisation is clearly a suitable way to delight customers without subjecting them to that targeted banner ads creepy feeling of being spied on that our CEO Lyle McCalmont wrote about recently in when exploring what a good digital strategy can do for customer service.

Once upon a time, personalisation meant displaying “welcome back” messages to returning users – which just served to show them how clever your tech was as much as it proved how much you valued their custom.

Then, it developed into “welcome back James” messages, even if you were Jane just borrowing James’ machine to browse on. Again, it proved the retailer was trying – but not much else.

Now though, with the wealth of customer data available to brands, the opportunities presented by personalisation have changed beyond recognition. Think of next generation thermostat Nest’s capability to remember your heating preferences for example or Airbnb’s ability to recall all your previous search criteria in recognition of the “research and return” nature of searching and buying in the travel sector.

The delight with well crafted personalisation is that there is no real downside. Users no longer feel spied on if brands use cookies to understand their needs and preferences, and making the searching and buying processes easier is a benefit that very few online shoppers wouldn’t now swap a little bit of data for.

So how does this help my hairdressing leaflet dropper? In the same way that it would help any business, regardless of size. Reaching your customers in the way they want to be reached, with relevant, useful and timely information and content has never been more important.

Distractions and competition are simply too plentiful now for any business or brand to waste time and resources on campaigns that don’t reach the right customers at the right time with the right message. Realistically, only digital tools and creative communications – whether you’re British Airways or a local hairdresser – can deliver results to an increasingly digital, increasing mobile society.