Personalising the customer experience

Personalisation is not a new thing. Forty years ago, the large direct marketers like Readers’ Digest and Damart were thrilling their customers and prospects by incorporating their names, their street or their town in the text of the multi-page letters they sent. This basic personalisation continues today, with marketing communications incorporating the same text variables.

However, these days no-one is particularly excited by the fact that direct marketers can reproduce their name on the page or the screen, irrespective of how large the font size is. Others go one stage further to annoy the recipients of their marketing collateral, by making either guesses or misguided assumptions about the recipients’ interests. Here are a couple of emails I received last year:

Both managed to get my name right but equally both were writing to me about issues in which I had no interest. Irrelevance is the antonym for personalisation and will contribute to the failure to engage. Using personal information isn’t enough to motivate action; 50% are likely to engage when they receive an interesting proposition and a study by Pure360 in 2018 found that only 8% react to marketing that addresses them by their first name and 7% with a personal themed message (e.g. birthday, work anniversary, new job, etc). What is Fundamental is relevance and intelligent use of personalisation.

The origins of this more intelligent or data driven personalisation go back further than one may think. Back in the late 1980’s there were two marketing tools that tended to prevail if a company had problems. One was a loyalty card and the second a customer magazine. If the company had real problems, then often they used both!

At that time, the UK motor industry had been using direct marketing for years and had tended to make that mistake demonstrated above of guessing about the customers’ intentions regarding buying a new car. The assumptions were that as the customer was approaching a significant anniversary since the purchase of the car (say 24 or 36 months), they would be in the market for replacing it with one of similar specification. Wrong. They had won the football pools or the premium bonds (this was before the days of the National Lottery) and so wanted a Rolls or a Ferrari or else the customer had married a divorcee with five children and a Mini was no longer appropriate. They did not know. One company, Austin Rover, recognised the need to maintain a relationship with their customers in that long period between buying a car and replacing it; after all, if someone has bought a car it is unlikely they will need another one next month. To personalise relevantly, you need to understand the context of your products and how this fits with the context of your customers, unlike this Amazon blunder exposed by a customer on Twitter:

Of the two prevailing marketing initiatives mentioned earlier Austin-Rover chose the customer magazine, but a customer magazine with a difference. This one was personalised to engage the reader. Not only did they get the customer’s name and address to show through the cover (to drive it through the mail)

but the reader could select the content that wanted to read about in forthcoming issues – subjects like travel, food, sports, etc. so that it became a personalised lifestyle magazine for the customer. There was a quid pro quo in that the reader was asked to complete a short form indicating when they were likely to replace their car and what kind of car was most likely to be their choice. This generated over 50,000 qualification updates to the database in each issue and meant that the customer would not receive any car marketing until they approached that ‘window of opportunity’ that they had indicated on the survey and would only receive information about an appropriate model and the content selection drove the type of incentive offered for test drives or purchase. This was in 1988, over thirty years ago and I am delighted to have been part of the team that conceived and delivered this strategy for the intelligent use of personalisation, winning awards in both the UK and USA for what award judges termed as ‘direct marketing as it should be’.

So, such intelligent use of personalisation should be a business priority. Research over the last three or four years has determined that you can increase conversion rates as such relevant marketing messages make it more likely that people will engage, it can increase the efficiency of marketing spend and will help improve customer lifetime value.

Considering the context of your products and services must be matched to the context of your customers – their actions, transactions and engagement and combinations of how long they have been a customer, complaints, referrals or advocacy and RFV score. You must also match to their personal profile or persona. Rather than targeting just based on demographics, consider how people behave and what this tells you about what might engage them. Demographics are largely static and may not always influence how or why people buy, but psychographic and behavioural personas can give insight into who does what, and why based on aspirations, attitudes, self-view, price sensitivity, journey stage, satisfaction and sentiment; create strategies that target each behaviour-based profile.

Try to introduce personalisation in real time – driving dynamics in the customer experience. It has been suggested that not personalising in real-time is not personalising. We didn’t have the channels for communication or the technology for driving real time dynamics when we did the Austin-Rover magazine, but such tools are available today. Personalisation should enable immediate reaction – like face to face, and so you need personalisation technology that can understand, react to, and optimise customer journeys in real-time by applying data analytics to deliver the right message or experience to the right person at the right time – an adage that we worked to 30 years ago!

Dynamic content presented to customers can be achieved using machine learning that decides what the best content for each customer is, based on such parameters as purchase history, preferences, persona and browsing and buying behaviour along with the customer lifecycle. But don’t just consider what to personalise, but how to personalise it; use the data-driven personalisation to drive the creative presentation in copy, images, format, offer and the response channel. Make personalisation an integral part of the experience but don’t go out of your way to push it in the face of your customers.

Don’t do something just because you can, like the meaningless incorporation of the customers’ names and towns discussed at the beginning of this article. Similarly, don’t flaunt to customers how they are tracked or the data you hold – I have seen this just unnerve them and so it has a detrimental effect on the experience. It has been suggested that your tactics should go unnoticed and create an effortless experience.

The best personalisation is that which enhances the customer experience without them querying how or why, but also demonstrates an understanding of the customer and reflects the truth about them; poor data is the single most quoted reason for failure of such communication strategies. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a data strategy?
  • Can I rely on my data?
  • Have I undertaken a gap analysis?
  • Am I maximising the touchpoints?

If the answer to any of these is ‘no’ then this is your start point.

So, in summary

  1. Basic personalisation tactics are no longer enough to engage customers
  2. Using personalisation intelligently is the best way to predict and shape behaviour
  3. Following the elements of data-driven personalisation help you develop your strategy
    • Embrace predictive analytics
    • Use data to drive dynamics in segmentation, offer, creative and channel
    • Establish measures that will feed the intelligence behind your personalisation
  4. Ensure your goal is based on improving customer experience and you’ll see increased engagement, retention, commercial success
  5. Ensure everyone has a single view of the truth through sound data management and governance

©Michael Collins 2019