Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

As consumers, we don’t bat an eyelid when our insurance companies send us a special offer just before our renewal dates, or a big pizza chain sends us a free dessert voucher for our birthdays. Neither of these things takes a rocket scientist to implement them – big brands are able to do it because they collect the right personal data from us in the first place, and they have a clear strategy and process in place to make it happen.

What we’re not normally as aware of is more subtle preference-based marketing.

I’m not talking about being asked whether you want to receive offers or just event updates (anyone can do that right now with Constant Contact), but a system whereby your previous behaviour in terms of purchases, links clicked, or items read, is recorded and used to serve you more of the content that the brand thinks you’re interested in.Who is leading the field?

One of the most familiar examples of a brand who does this very well is Amazon. They make recommendations for you, based on your previous purchases. In addition, for each item you look at on their site, they tell you  about similar products other visitors who looked at the same product as you went on to visit, AND what they actually went on to buy. Very clever and it really boosts sales.

Dynamic email marketing also falls into this category – this is where a subscriber receives an email with content that is specific to their interests, based on the last email that they received and what they clicked on within that message.

However, we’re not all e-commerce companies, and very few of us have Amazonian marketing budgets, so what does this mean for small businesses owners and everyone else?

How does this affect small businesses?

As with so much else in the small business world, ideas get filtered down to practical levels and what can be implemented on a small business budget. In my experience, that takes a couple of years on average, although the pace of change is increasing, and so we will likely see a faster trickle-down occurring too.

One of the things that I think small business owners will become aware of is the opportunities that they have for personalising marketing communications to their customers.

What’s coming for small businesses?

There’s a lot of easily available functionality that would allow small and micro businesses to do this right now, but very few are taking advantage of them. What I think we’ll start to see from more small business owners in the near future is:

  • Interest-based messaging. This can be as simple as setting up different interest-based lists and then mailing each of them separately, e.g. offers, events, news or research could all be separate lists. It also extends to the use of hashtags on Facebook and Twitter as a means to discover information on a specific subject. The benefit is that you’re not asking readers to wade through content that doesn’t interest them to get to what does interest them, meaning better conversions, open rates, and click through rates, as well as increased engagement.
  • Use of personal details in communications. It’s really easy to drop what we call ‘custom fields’ into email marketing messages, meaning that if you know a subscribers favourite colour, number of children, favourite food, or whatever is relevant to your business, you can include that in your email text. E.g. you could have a message that says ‘Hello [first name], We noticed it was your birthday next month and thought you might like to join us for a [favourite pizza] on us when you bring your family along to celebrate with you”. This is easy to do right now, but you have to collect the relevant information in the first place – and that’s what is changing.
  • Signposting of content based on readers’ preferred communication channels. Many people now use social media as a preferred way of connecting with people and brands, and at Constant Contact we always talk about the need to use email and social media together. So, what if your regular email newsletter also showcased what was happening on your social media channels – but based on which channels that customer liked to use? So, if you know someone follows you on Pinterest, you can send them updates related to your Pinterest activity, if they’re a Twitter user, you send them more Twitter-related stuff.

I’m interested to see how small businesses begin to work with these upcoming trends. Of course, it’s not going to be sudden or uniform change, and there will probably be differences depending on whether the business serves other business or consumers too.

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