Making sense of personalisation – just because we can, does it mean we should?

Andrew S - 30 th September 2016

The personalisation movement has been around for a long time and is rapidly becoming an expectation of customers everywhere.

But how do we know this?

But even with this multitude of published research, the most common question my customers pose remains...

"How do I do this with my business when all our assets are more aligned to a mass marketing world?"

This is a discussion that has been building pace over the past 5 years or so.

So we have been gathering some of the answers and assembling new ways to develop customer experiences that blend the best of the physical and digital worlds. A combination that allows personalisation to make a positive impact on customers by refocusing the brand’s assets and processes.  

But trying to deliver the best of both worlds comes with certain challenges, especially at the interface where the two worlds collide without structure or organisation. Granted, creating digital personalisation may not be a walk in the park - but it is easier to deliver than a full process and cultural change in the physical world.

A digital investment that paid off

For me, one of the most impressive cases to date has been the transformation of Shop Direct. It has grown from a catalogue analogue business to a digital business that can now provide 1.2m personalised experiences for its customers. And all by tailoring the offer for each visitor based on the data profile they leave every time they shop.

They have also re-engineered their supporting processes. From logistics to returns, each customer is provided with a seamless experience that encourages them to go back.

The results of such visionary change are plain to see, with the brand delivering a +15.9% growth rate and the group PBT rising an impressive 43%. An amazing example of what can happen when you dive into the digital world and get serious about personalisation!

It won’t all have been plain sailing. The strength of the management team will have been tested many times. But their resolve evidently held true.

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So, combined with our experience in the customer experience arena, what lessons might we be able to take from the Shop Direct experience? How can we use personalisation to the benefit of our brands and avoid some of the potential pitfalls?

After 17 years building and delivering customer experiences, I offer four key insights to help make sense of personalisation. Whilst being somewhat stating of the obvious, it never fails to surprise me how often they are ignored or seen as “questions too difficult to answer.”

1. If the team at the top don't get it, it will not happen

For some of the leaders I talk to, the case for personalisation is often seen as a real business opportunity disguised as the latest marketing fad.

Although they see the need for closer bonds with their customers, as well as the benefits this can bring, they are often befuddled by the tech speak that comes with it. Tech speak that appears to be based on the ability of the digital team to deliver the nirvana scenario.

So, this often leaves them questioning how it will work with their legacy assets and services, as well as the impact it will have on the whole business.

Helping them understand the opportunity in terms of the business advantage and not an ethereal concept is a good starting point. It is essential to look at the subject from a whole business perspective and not just from a digital silo.

2. Personalisation is not the answer to everything in the customer's world

The case for personalisation is a powerful one, but it must be set into context of the holistic customer experience. For example, a personalised digital experience that is let down by shabby delivery and powered by processes unfit for purpose is no longer personalised. It is a pain.

To enable a coherent personalisation strategy, the “as is” state must be defined empirically. Which requires data from a number of sources, including:

  • Current customer digital behaviour

  • Internal measures of the customer experience, such as key insights from the internal team dealing with them at the coal face

  • Vital business KPI performance that drive the decisions and actions internally, and of course from your customers

3. If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there

To be able to plot where, when and how you are going to personalise your customers’ experiences, you need to first be able to map the complete experience.

This is something that should be built by the key stakeholders from across the business, using the evidence gathered, and guided by the brand vision.

The mapping process is very much the start of a new way of working. In our experience, engaging cross functional teams for the first time opens the eyes of key people in your business to the true customer experience being delivered.

This is often the light bulb moment.

This map can be used to identify the right moments to apply personalisation, as well as those moments where customers just want their brand to be efficient without too much fuss.

4. Without a clear, nailed down plan nothing will happen

How often have you looked back over a project and seen that not much has actually happened as a result of all that effort people have put into it? One of the most common denominators is the lack of an actionable, accountable and time-defined plan.

In order to deliver a personalised experience, a plan must blend the digital and physical worlds that very often have huge issues in coming together.

Many businesses operate on the old mass market principles - with legacy systems that don’t talk to each other, data silos all over the place and people who are held back by processes that are not fit for purpose in the customer empowered world.

In common with the rest of the business world, the plan must be agile and measured with clear accountability for delivery. This type of plan will help you avoid rigidity, enabling inspired iteration from the team responsible for its delivery.

So, just because we can, does it mean we should?

Personalisation is, without doubt, an amazing opportunity for all businesses to get closer to customers and provide them with the kind of service they are looking for.

But it is not the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything... For those of us Douglas Adams fans we know this to be 42!

For me, the answer is a complex and ultimately rewarding journey that helps businesses change and become more competitive across everything they do. And ultimately, to create irresistible customer experiences that help them deliver their business ambitions.

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Andrew is the CEO and the other founding partner of Brand Vista. With over 30 years of brand experience both on the client and agency side, what gets him up every morning is a passion for helping clients grow through building genuinely differentiated brands that deliver a customer experience that becomes irresistible.
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