by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) I’m not one to lament the globalisation of our economy; it’s brought the world’s products directly to our doorstep, or increasingly, a mouse-click away. This is exciting in that it creates competition, improves the speed of innovation and, in the end, offers us more choice. I don’t think anyone would turn their back on that but we do need to be conscious of what we are losing and not just focus on what we are gaining, in the process.

A few decades ago, people did business with those they knew and trusted. Bankers understood your situation, aspirations and track record. Grocers sourced from farmers you knew, while your tailor had perhaps even made suits and dresses for your parents. There was, in that age, an enormous emphasis on the quality of personal relationships, where little touches that demonstrated a kindness seldom seen today ultimately instilled a sense of loyalty that would endure for a generation or more.

The marketing effect

Today, as the economy has gone beyond borders, so marketing has become more targeted as brand owners define ‘who their products are for’, rather than relying on geography or the self-selection of old. The online media universe, in particular, allows this targeting to become hyper-relevant, with a focus on serving the right messages, at the right times, to the ‘right’ audiences. Many would agree that a banner is not life-enriching but most would also admit to having finally given in to the remarketing efforts of an online retailer for a pair of shoes they’ve been browsing. No store visit necessary; no store (even) necessary.

However, while everyone looks to pursue greater efficiencies, better targeting and improved returns, they increasingly risk losing the benefit of history’s lesson in the value of personal relations.

Keeping it personal

I remember vividly the story shared by an inspirational ex-director at Louis Vuitton (now head of luxury and CRM at the Pernod Ricard Headquarters), Tareef Shawa, who has an almost-unbreakable bond with his crisp white Lanvin shirts. His first purchase was routine, with all the courtesy you’d expect from a luxury outfitter, but what happened thereafter was remarkable: a personal follow-up to find out how he was enjoying the garment and whether he had any further needs, and then, appropriately timed some months later, a courtesy call from the same store assistant to let him know that a new delivery of shirts had arrived, and that a few in his size had been set aside, should he wish to pick them up or have them delivered.

Even as a man who works at the height of the luxury sector, with both means and endless choice, he is a massive advocate of this level of personal courtesy. He’s not going to buy a classic white shirt from anywhere else.

What may we take from this?

In a digitised age, where transactions are becoming increasingly impersonal, purchase decisions have almost nothing to do with trusted relationships. A great loss, and a great opportunity for those who take the time to know their customers and their needs, rather than have to apply the same amount of effort to convert not just the first purchase but every purchase thereafter. What used to be held in memory is now being held in data. What used to be exchanged face-to-face may now be delivered via SMS, email or app notification — the channels may have changed but the sentiment remains the same.

The surprise of receiving an appropriate, thoughtful note builds brand preference just as much as enjoyment of the product. To tip it entirely over the edge, a real-world note, phone call or personal interaction is all it may take to break entirely through the clutter and convert a lifetime of repeat business.

Let us, therefore, not forget that, in the race for efficiency, there’s a silver bullet that is increasingly being ignored, and that is the simple and enduring value of care.


Tom Fels 2016With a history of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the marketing ecosystem. His skills are now put to work daily as chief executive of digital technology and performance-marketing business, Nurun ( He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.

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