An evermore discerning customer demands greater personalisation and will engage with those brands that can create a truly bespoke experience, but how can this be taken to the next level?
Getting hyperpersonal with customers is nothing new, but doing it using context to create relevant experiences at scale and speed is. Some are on the right track. No two Netflix home pages are the same globally; Amazon and Spotify do a good job. Download the Starbucks app and you can customise and order drinks, using information on past purchases. Yet real personalisation is in its infancy.
If the goal is to build a personal relationship with an individual, then like any connection, it takes time and cultivation
“Consumer expectations are changing at speed and there’s been a stark light shone on the ineptitude of incumbent brands by startups and digitally native players unfettered by legacy systems and cultural blockades,” explains Hugh Fletcher, global head of innovation at Wunderman Thompson Commerce.
Data capture at key points in the customer journey means everything. But how you use it is the tricky bit. Identifying actionable insights quickly and using these to pre-empt future customer behaviour and drive loyalty is a strategic goal. Those companies at the cutting edge of hyperpersonalisation are therefore creating products and services that generate real-time, valuable customer data to assist them in this quest.
What does “living business” mean for personalisation?
A useful term that Accenture uses for those doing this is “living businesses”, companies able constantly to anticipate and respond to changing customer needs using data. “Over half of consumers globally prefer buying from companies that deliver relevant, timely and personalised interactions. Savvy companies are now prioritising how they can become part of a customer’s everyday life in a more meaningful way,” says John Zealley, global lead at Accenture’s customer insight practice.
“Living marketing” and “conversational commerce” are terms used in a similar context, since listening and appreciating customers at every touchpoint and then predicting behaviour makes sense. But it’s easier said than done. In a post-General Data Protection Regulation world, when European Union legislation protects data privacy, there are challenges; get beyond the consent hurdle and there are other stumbling blocks too.
“The real issue is that personalisation is typically done with the idea of selling more instead of building a relationship with customers. If the goal is to build a personal relationship with an individual, then like any connection, it takes time and cultivation. In real business terms, this also takes investment,” says Cory Cruser, innovation lead at Lippincott.
Hyperpersonalising without being hyperpersonal or downright creepy, the so-called personalisation paradox, may be some way off for many brands, but it’s making companies think how empathetic they are towards their customers. Suggesting music choices based on past listening habits is one thing, hounding customers with ill-informed ad banners via cookies or emailing them by name and address, is another. No one wants a hard sell on your digital doorstep.
Expectations of personalisation change from customer to customer
How much personalisation is too much is also a big question, yet some people are even willing to share their DNA in exchange for make-up selections or swap data for curated wine choices; there’s a rainbow of consumer attitudes out there. “Every user is different and what some people may find uncomfortable, others may think is a delightful help. Knowing what your customer wants is crucial,” says Benoit Soucaret, creative director at LiveArea.
And the bar’s being set higher as customers now expect a Netflix-style experience whenever they come into contact with a company in any sector. Presently, customers are less loyal to brands and more wedded to good service; digital startups have utilised this idea to their advantage.
There’s no doubt that building a rapport with customers over time is the future of personalised brand experiences and a new battleground. “I think this is all about who owns the customer relationship,” says Nick Cooper, global executive director at Landor Associates.
What companies can learn from direct-to-consumer businesses
The rise, success and inflated valuations of disruptive digital-native brands that go direct to the consumer, from Graze to Glossier, Dollar Shave Club to HelloFresh, shows the importance of building a deeper relationship with customers. There’s a lot to be learnt from them. They are pushing the boundaries of personalised experiences, thinking like an agile, nimble, digital startup can be a good strategy.
“Organisations with large amounts of data about customers preferences, habits and interactions are leading the field. Companies offering consumers personalised physical products are also seeing significant growth in market share, from Nike to Rapha. They’re meeting unmet needs providing unique products that are specific to customer preferences for sizing, colours, fitting and styling,” explains Paul Smith, SAP’s customer experience global industry principal for consumer products.
“Going forward, 90 per cent of the growth from incumbent brands will be through more direct engagement with customers rather than having an opaque, indirect view of them.”
Personality plays a vitally important role in personalisation. The key to a digital brand’s success is not data alone. Building a strong brand personality fosters an emotional connection with customers and also has the power to transform the perception of mundane products.
“Take sustainable toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap, known for its colourful packaged toilet roll and door-to-door service. The brand transforms the ultimate functional product into an ethical statement to be proudly displayed,” says Michelle Du-Prât, executive strategy director of Household. The likes of Splosh’s refillable cleaning products or Brushbox, which sells eco-friendly toothbrushes via subscription, work in a similar fashion.
How brands can bring personalisation back in-store
Big incumbent and high street brands aren’t utilising the assets they currently have to their full advantage either. The physical store used to be a bastion of personalisation; remember the local butcher and post office counter staff who knew you by name? This will gradually return, but in a reinvented guise.
“The new adidas concept stores or the Glossier pop-ups in the US have nailed the personalised, non-creepy shopping experience that mirrors your online persona with your in-store one to give people the ultimate shopping experience,” explains Sarah Sherry, head of digital business at Boys+Girls.
“It’s imperative that brands keep themselves relevant today and in the future. It’s not simply about using data and artificial intelligence for personalisation. The answer could be in new products and services. It should be about using creativity to solve the business needs.”
Most brands are currently using personalisation in a reactive way to engage customers or tentatively reach out to them. This will only get more engaging over time.
“In future, organisations will use data to proactively inspire customers at the right time. Take holidays, for instance. Why wait for a customer to proactively enter the holiday market, when data will tell you where, when and what is normally booked,” says Mr Fletcher.
“Proactive inspiration will mean companies, organisations and brands will target customers, rather than waiting for them. It’s personalisation, but not as we know it.”
Top tips from customer experience experts
‘It’s all about the experience’ Personalisation is not about optimising the customer journey for immediate business benefit, such as click on that buy-now button or banner. It’s about creating longer-term loyalty as experience becomes the new battleground for customer acquisition… Shorful Islam, chief data scientist, Tribal Worldwide London ‘Relevance is everything’ Don’t be annoying to customers. Take time to target a few touchpoints rather than all of them and make sure you’re always creating experiences with your audience in mind. Take time to map out how your brand can be part of your customer’s life in a practical, meaningful way… Louise Whitcombe, head of customer engagement, Ogilvy UK ‘Don’t overdo it’ With all the data signals that can be applied to an experience, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of producing a lot of different versions without there being any incremental benefit, just extra cost; know, through testing, where that balance lies… Matt Holt, chief strategy officer, Digitas ‘Reach out to third parties’ Brands can augment their data by partnering with organisations or purchasing it from third parties. When this data is applied with first-party data, a more robust picture of customers emerges, equipping you with even more information to provide highly relevant offers… Steve Grout, director of loyalty, Collinson ‘Authenticity rules’ It’s crucial for deep connections between brands and consumers. However, authenticity needs to be embraced across all functions of an organisation’s ecosystem, so each part of the business ensures a seamless and personal customer experience… Ash Bendelow, managing director, BRAVE