Who’s Michael? The trials and tribulations of marketing automation


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The battle for personalised communications with customers is fought with a double-edged sword. Organisations strive to address customers as personally as possible – 'Dear Sir/Madam' is a thing of the past – while also maintaining customer trust over their personal data, but what happens when things don't go to plan?

British multinational insurance company, Aviva, found out for itself after mistakenly emailing several thousands of their customers addressing them as 'Michael'. Recipients then received a follow-up email apologising for the "temporary technical error". Aviva also reassured customers that their data wasn't compromised in this incident. Today, consumers are growing increasingly concerned about their own data privacy. This is largely due to the parade of organisations who have suffered data breaches as of late.

Ironically, Avivagate occurred on Data Privacy Day, when data protection awareness is undoubtedly a little higher. Even funnier, Aviva is the very brand whose global strategy was based on the premise of 'no one recognises you like Aviva'. Well, sure they do – if your name is Michael.

Fortunately, the aftermath is a few giggles here and there. No one can blame Aviva either; the company was only doing what every other organisation is trying to do: personal communications. So, what let it down?

Dear [Insert Name Here]

A possible cause for the blunder is incorrect data entry. It only takes one mistake in the earlier stages of campaign setup or personalisation token for the error to be sent to the thousands. This, of course, necessitates that businesses think more deeply about their processes. Double/triple checks and testing would certainly not go amiss.

However, email pushes are often last minute. Human nature would see that we quickly glaze over the template before distribution. Despite this, the human responsibility in artificial intelligence-driven communications is still significant. In particular, the names for different fields may need standardising and strict processes must be in place for data synchronisation.

If continuing with the "temporary technical error" narrative, then it's entirely possible that bulk email providers are falling short. Some tools may only let you check a single sample of an email. Now, if that email is for Michael and addressed to Michael, you'd have no reason to doubt it. What you wouldn't know is whether every other email is addressed to Michael too. Thus, checking alone won't do the trick – you must also run multiple tests for different in-house recipients.

The Aviva booboo is simply a cautionary tale and is a reminder that AI should not work in place of humans. Instead, we should work alongside it to keep our customers at heart, and their data safe.

Enjoy this piece? Check out our CxO of the Week, Ofer Amitai at Portnox Security.

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