How personalisation is helping brands transform ‘analysis paralysis’ into clever communications

The Very Group, Hotel Chocolat and Lovehoney have upped their data game, and are ready to reap the rewards


Retailers competing to get the best out of peak shopping seasons are sharpening their personalisation strategies to create more nuanced and effective customer communications. 

Yet according to the Retail Roadblocks report by customer engagement platform Emarsys, which surveyed 500 marketers from global retail brands, 30% say they are lacking the ability to segment by behaviour and purchases. 42% are devoting more time to preparing and segmenting data than doing anything else, with 67% committing more time to improving personalised product recommendations.

Brands like the Very Group (which operates Very.co.uk), Hotel Chocolat and Lovehoney are following this path. They’re investing significant amounts of time and resources into optimising not just the customer data they have, but how they access, interpret and act on it on a regular basis. Three senior company leaders shared their experiences at the latest Raconteur roundtable on ‘The power of personalisation,’ sponsored by Emarsys. 

Hotel Chocolat: using data for myth-busting

Hotel Chocolat has seen “hugely better conversion rates” after transitioning from a mass email approach to one that is highly targeted. It has just recruited a director of customer insight and analytics to help “join the dots,” as chief marketing officer Lysa Hardy described it, even doing some crucial “myth-busting” ahead of developing the company’s next three-year business strategy. 

“We’ve been able to identify opportunities that I hadn’t even thought about, or in things that I thought might be an opportunity, the data is telling me that it’s not what I thought it was, and that we should tackle that in a different way. So it’s really interesting to see how it’s all connecting,” Hardy says. 

“Unlocking that insight allows us to join it together quickly, so we can be more nimble and confident, because we’ve got that data behind us to take more decisive actions. We’ve seen some real evidence of that in some of the campaigns that we’ve been working on.” 

Hardy gave the example of the Velvetiser hot chocolate machine and the company’s ability to personalise with greater detail. Hotel Chocolat now looks at consumption rates by customer type, sending individual reminders to repurchase and resupply, while also suggesting new flavours. 

“Customers really appreciated that because it felt like it was easy to replenish their system. We saw a better repurchase and higher consumption rate,” says Hardy. “That was a neat way of how we started to glue together some of the various bits that were working in silos into one programme targeted at a specific product and group of customers.” 

The Very Group: ready to act on 20,000 personalisation possibilities 

The Very Group’s chief marketing officer Carly O’Brien described the company’s chief data officer as one of her “most important internal relationships.” Together they have aligned not just the marketing and data teams, but the strategy and digital customer experience teams over the past 18 months to resegment customer data and “get under the skin of which insights are most important for us to look at,” particularly as customer behaviours evolved during the pandemic. 

“We track more than 100 million tags on our website daily. We have so much information, we could easily drown in it. So, the first step really was about organising it. The second stage of it was then what I would call humanising that data, to understand what else is going on in their lives and why they make the choices they make,” says O’Brien. 

She adds: “Our whole customer base is split into seven segments that are clustered together by the way they behave, and the way we believe they think about their shopping experiences with us and the way that they make their decisions. The insights give us good direction on what might be the next best action. If you’ve got a segment who are shopping for a household versus a segment who like to have the latest tech first, the way we would bring our proposition to life to those two segments would be very different.” 

We have so much information, we could easily drown in it. So, the first step really was about organising it. The second stage…is humanising that data, to understand what else is going on in their lives and why they make the choices they make

Now, O’Brien says, it’s time for the Very Group to deploy personalisation variations against its organised data, of which she estimated there are around 20,000 possibilities and described as “super exciting.” 

Lovehoney: managing ‘analysis paralysis’ 

Lovehoney’s chief commercial officer Debbie Bond believes the brand has reinterpreted its approach to personalisation. No longer does it simply add a customer’s name to an email, instead it personalises the experience across the whole website using behavioural segmentation. 

“We’re able to inject real-time content based on whether a customer came from an email or a Google search, and their purchasing history. We’re also able to help if we see people getting stuck. For example, they might need live chat support, so we can interject in a way we could never have done before,” says Bond. 

She adds: “Customisation also means we won’t frighten off a customer who is new to our category and just interested to have a look around, versus a regular that’s coming in to see what cool new thing they can add to their toolbox at home. 

Understanding customers at that level is critical to getting the right message and the right product at the right point of their shopping experience.” However, Bond noted that personalisation, when done incorrectly, can lead to “unnecessary complexity.” 

“It creates an enormous amount of work, with very little payback. One of my biggest challenges with the team is managing ‘analysis paralysis,’ and knowing when to stop because you’ve got enough information to make a quality decision,” says Bond.

Emarsys chief executive Joanna Milliken acknowledged how the “massive amounts of data” marketers are working with is “a blessing and a curse,” feeling like “a never-ending game.” 

She adds: “The more solutions and channels we have, the more data they create, and we need to consume. We’re just in this perpetual cycle of how we manage and balance that, using just the right amount of data to act in the right way.” 

Milliken concludes: “The principle of marketing hasn’t changed. The intrinsic value of what we’re doing is to constantly improve how we meet customer expectations. I see a lot of progressive thinking within this group.”

For more information, visit emarsys.com