There’s lots of renewed talk around “personalization”, largely fuelled by the rise of customer data platforms, artificial intelligence and smart automation.

Particularly in consumer businesses, where there’s arguably more need than ever before to ‘stand out’ by doing something different, how can new approaches to personalization help to put “smiles on faces and money in the till”?

First of all, let’s look at a few common mistakes brands make when it comes to personalization…

1) Personalization is not segmentation.

Sure, segmentation is a useful and necessary thing, with multiple proven use-cases including more targeted advertising and email content optimization.

But, persona and lifecycle-stage models are still a broad-brush strategy – whilst they may help to steer your communication efforts towards a more receptive audience and provide a general framework for content production, you’re still tailoring for the masses. More department store than Savile Row.

2) Personalization is not (just) for marketing.

Marketing automation has been the near-sole focus of data and personalization strategy for the past decade.

And most organizations have focused on the ‘lead to cash’ part of the spectrum, i.e. new customer acquisition and sales lift. We’ve all seen the adverts on TV (especially in the telco and utility sectors) where new customers are embraced and existing customers are neglected…

It’s common sense that to be most effective, personalization should be applied across the business in the pursuit of increased customer lifetime value, positive sentiment and advocacy. But most businesses are missing a huge trick through departmental disparity and narrowness of focus.

3) Personalization is not ‘investment’ in technology.

A CEO and CTO walk into a bar. The CEO asks the CTO, “What’s our strategy for big data and personalization to increase sales, delight our customers and differentiate our brand?”  The CTO thinks for a second and says “a CDP, AWS ML, Cloud AI and Digital CX”.

Sorry… that’s no joke, but it happens all the time. Businesses often end up with a platform (and acronym) overload, driven by a desire to stay on the front foot with new tech. But before thinking about technology choices, think about what you want the technology to do. What sort of customer experience will it enable – in practical terms?

It may be surprising, but very few people know with any clarity what they’d actually do, differently to what they’re doing today, with a new martech stack for better personalization. If that’s you, be comforted that you’re not alone.

The balance of selling and serving

To us, the goal of personalization is “creating a desired physical or emotional response in any given situation, to achieve a profitable business outcome”. But, it’s also about knowing when to sell, and when to serve

If a high-value customer is unhappy, what are you going to do about it?  You’re going to take them out of your current marketing campaign (they’re not in the mood to buy right now) and give them an honest apology, that’s what!  

So, if it’s that simple then why isn’t everyone doing it?  The answer brings us right back to data, and to business alignment.

Old-school customer engagement was largely a one-way street, filled with batch-and-blast emails to satisfy a numbers game of conversion versus opt-outs.

Those days left with GDPR, to the extent that many businesses simply stopped sending emails out of fear that customers would disengage for good. To break the impasse, new data was needed – and fresh thinking.

The Next Best Question

How do we know what our customers want?  How can we tell what they’re thinking?  It’s actually quite simple: you ask them.

Today, we have more customer feedback channels than ever before – plus the technology to mine that feedback for context and sentiment, and to automate follow-up actions in real-time. Data from across the business, from the call centre to the physical point of sale.

So, if there was one thing that you could ask each of your customers – right now – what would it be?  What’s the Next Best Question?

  • Have you heard about this new product or service of ours?
  • Do you need any more information before you make a decision?
  • Did you like the new ski boots that we sent you?
  • Did they arrive on time, undamaged?
  • Did we look after you?
  • What do you think about us?
  • Would you consider leaving a review?
  • Is there anything else we can help you with today?
  • Would you come back if we gave you a sweet deal on ski socks?

Or, maybe there’s no need to say anything at all. The point is, be relevant.

Think about it. With the right ideas, tools and techniques you can turn a one-way street of marketing doubt into a two-way highway of dialogue that can be mined for context, propensity and sentiment – to assess and enrich the customer relationship at every meaningful opportunity.

Boiling the ocean is not required. Start small, but start somewhere. Start personalizing.