Commentary

Targeting Communities

Personalized marketing is more powerful when it targets the community a person is a member of, according to Sai Koppala, CMO of SheerID, which deploys technology that enables companies to run marketing campaigns aimed at specific segments -- professional or otherwise. It promises to reach consumers who voluntarily provide information about themselves in exchange for a  unique offer on a particular product or service. 

SheerId was founded nine years ago by entrepreneurs who saw that while ecommerce was taking off, few vendors were providing targeted deals -- like to military and students -- as was the case in the offline world. The founders set out to create a way to target communities in a frictionless way. The goal: to enable brands to make emotional connections through the identity of a person and a group they might belong to in the interest of more loyalty and higher conversion.

The trick, of course, is to verify that people are who they say they are -- and that's where SheerID comes in. If a cruise line is providing a special offer to military personnel, that can be accomplished through asking a few questions on the line’s website. While that interaction provides explicit consent, said Koppala, SheerID does not store the data. It can only be accessed on behalf of the consumer.

Also, in collecting data from “communities,”  the company walks a line, said Koppala. For instance, it will not ask for Social Security numbers and in general does not ask for details that can be compromised.

With increasing privacy concerns and large technology platforms like Apple and Google taking steps to stop tracking people, “we are in a great time as far as building direct relationships with  consumers,” said Koppala. Those kinds of relationships provide richer, first-party details that are verifiable, he added.

One of SheerID’s clients is CheapCaribbean, a travel seller that made a series of exclusive offers to nurses and used SheerID technology to ratify their status as members of that profession. And once that information was in hand, the company was able to engage them on an ongoing basis. One campaign brought 8,000 nurses into CheapCaribbean’ s Travel Club. 

Community is a powerful identifier, said Koppala. For instance, research has found that teachers who are mothers often identify as teachers first, attaching a lot of emotion to that identity. Similarly, members of the military frequently identify more with that affiliation than with their religion. That enables brands to message and engage in a consent-driven way -- and not in the kind of “creepy” way that can come with third-party data. All of this happens in real time while the consumer is on a website or using an app.

Since its founding with the emphasis on military and students, SheerID has added more consumer communities, and has gone global as well. In addition, the company does not focus only on discounts or customer  verification. It provides, said Koppala, “marketing in a box.” For instance, as a result of a partnership with the PGA tour, the company can arrange to have members of the military meet professional golfers. “We always ask the client how we can provide a red carpet for their customers.”

The power of this kind of segmented marketing is that it magnifies a potentially massive word-of mouth-effect within the particular community, said Koppala. A recent back-to-school  campaign by Target for teachers, for instance, went viral and was posted on school boards.

In a 2019 survey conducted by SheerId and Military Times, 96% of respondents said they would share a personalized military offer with others in that community. Similar research with teachers showed comparable results.

While personalization is often thought of as a one-to-one tool, it’s wise to reconsider it as targeting well-defined groups as well.

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