Personalisation: How far should you go?

There is a temptation to think that everything in digital marketing is an entirely new frontier – I know I can be guilty of this! I was recently reminded of this after an interesting discussion that covered topics from ID syncing, to data flows, segmentation and real-time activation. My senior Client Director pointed out that much of the personalisation we can now achieve in digital media is new in scale rather than principle. He had started his career in direct mail – segmenting his customer base before sending the relevant communication. Digital media allows us to do this in real time, with more granularity and knowing even more about our customers than ever before. But just because we can personalise our comms, does not always mean we always should.

There are now a number of apocryphal examples of personalisation going too far; the Target pregnancy prediction (2012) and bone conducting movie marketing in train windows in Germany (2013) are personal favourites.  But there is an awful lot that can be done before we reach “too far”, and “too far” is at the end of a spectrum of personalisation. The key is understanding where on this spectrum a brand wants to (and should) aim for. To do this, we think about the “4 Cs”

1) Context (the “who”)

For luxury brands whose business models are centred around exclusivity and personal relationships, personalisation is, arguably, easier; there is more time and energy available to cater for a niche and highly engaged customer base. Personalisation here is expected. But for high street brands, the challenge becomes more complex; creating a joined-up customer experience that serves both the masses and the individual is no mean feat. The first step then is to understand the requirements and expectations of the audience. Does personalisation mean retargeting with products placed in a customer’s basket but not purchased? Or a bespoke website landing page? Or a direct call from a contact centre? Or a blend of all of these? 

2) Constraints (what you have to work with)

Most organisations have to work within a set of constraints – typically time, money and the (human) resources available to them. There are a number of exciting technologies that can automate best next action decisioning, use AI to deliver messaging and/or change the creative shown within a fraction of a second based on 100s of data signals.  But all of this comes at a cost – there needs to be a business case to justify it and the skill sets to deliver it.

3) Complexity (how far do you go)

Based on the needs of the audience and the resources available, the next decision is on complexity. For brands starting from scratch there can be some quick wins. For example; using a DSP to serve programmatic media, retargeting based on (correctly tagged) site activity, delivering on-site optimisation, and developing segmentation to send more granular email comms. At the other end of the spectrum, a Data Management Platform coupled with a Dynamic Creative solution allows highly granular bidding and segmentation to be delivered seamlessly. This solution can require input from teams across the organisation and more complex data architecture so is a longer term development than a comparatively simple data audit and tagging exercise.

4) Coherence (personalisation, everywhere)

Being personal doesn’t stop with an email or an ad; it needs to extend into stores as we, and our customers, blur the line between online and offline. An email for an offer that retail stores are not aware of, or cannot be found on the website can betray the siloes in an organisation and be hugely frustrating for customers. In the age of social media, small annoyances can very quickly become big problems. Whilst technology can help to facilitate coherence, the most successful companies have a customer centric approach which considers all their touchpoints with a consumer and ensures the experience is joined up.

Getting this right yields real benefits. Brands that optimise and personalise their customer experience increase loyalty and revenue (see for example Forbes 2015 study: 62% of customers buy more and/or more often when met with connected and personalised retail experiences). Whilst this can require an expensive transformation programme this is not always the case. Marketing has always been about personalisation – getting the right message to the right person. Inherent in that is an understanding of the customer so that we can assess the “right” message. The technology opportunities of the digital economy allow us to go further than ever, the decision that now sits with marketers is not why, but how much they buy into personalisation.