The personalization tactics that retailers have traditionally used need to change. Consumers expect a more individualized retail experience than in years past and feel that if major brands like Netflix or Amazon are able to deliver then everyone else should too. Brands seeking to deliver this approach need to emphasize the delivery of personalized experiences across an increasingly omnichannel environment that blends digital and physical interactions into a consistent whole.
The expectation of an omnichannel experience has led brands like Starbucks and Lowe’s to integrate digital systems into their physical stores so they can more readily personalize customer interactions and deliver top-notch experiences. I discussed these changes in the market with Forrester’s Brendan Witcher in a recent webinar called “Delivering Personalization at Scale to Achieve Omnichannel Effectiveness.” In this session, we discussed a series of examples and use cases that described how to personalize messaging based on customers’ unique journeys.
As Brendan said in the webinar, “successful personalization is just a great customer experience.” Successful companies offer exactly what their customers want without them noticing that they have been guided along personalized paths. Customers want their experiences with their chosen brand to be frictionless and seamless; if their expectations are not met, consumers are likely to abandon the brand. According to Forrester, 61 percent of consumers are unlikely to return to a website that does not provide a satisfactory customer experience. This is a substantial number of customers who will just stop doing business with a brand based on even a single experience.
Brendan mentioned that retail marketers need to understand how critical the customer experience is, and put more value on meeting consumer expectations. To do that, brands need to conduct a thorough analysis of customer data and subtly implement personalization into the consumer’s purchase journeys. The first step usually involves finding the gaps in the company’s ability to deliver personalized experiences and then investing in the right systems to eliminate those barriers. It is crucial to ensure consistency of data throughout every department that’s needed to provide customers with well-rounded services.
To create a comprehensive customer profile, data needs to be collected and synced from all digital and physical touchpoints. This helps the company to better understand customer behaviors from all angles. The future is increasingly omnichannel, which includes in-store personalization as well as digital experiences. Retailers should review each touchpoint to better understand how it can use and collect customer data; knowing this means companies know what they have and how that information will best power personalized experiences.
While doing this, retail brands need to respect consumer privacy. There is a lot of data that customers are willing to share, but brands need to be overt in their data collection practices. Brendan used the example of how Hudson Bay Company asks for a customer’s body type to best determine which fits of clothing to show them. He said that was a good example of an organization showing consumers how their data would be used to personalize interactions.
Redpoint Global customer Keurig Green Mountain goes through a similar process with their product recommendation engine, which I discussed on the webinar. Keurig uses an interactive quiz, called the Perfect Cup™, to capture the coffee preferences of individual customers. They leverage that information to provide tailored messaging and product-based offers to each customer. Keurig works hard to maintain an ongoing conversation with its customers, which starts with the Keurig brewer registration and leads to emails, mobile, and web experiences based on their preferred channels and touchpoints. Personalization helps them improve each coffee drinker’s experience with the brand and subsequently helps them with more effective product development. Keurig has clear lines of communication about how they’re using the Perfect Cup information, and the resulting campaigns generate impressive lift for the brand. Such is the power of providing personalized experiences in the new marketplace.
The classic approach to personalization that marketers have taken is to manually segment broad-based audiences. This tactic requires a lot of time, resources, and content to generate effective results. There are now so many engagement touchpoints, and customers generate so much data, that broad-based segments don’t scale. Customers are not only 40- to 50-year-olds who live in Massachusetts and watch Celtics basketball; they also might be interested in California wines and like jazz music. Traditional broad-brush segments miss a lot of the nuanced details that can power a more individualized brand experience and they are very hard to automate and scale.
This is why the idea of a “zero-segment” approach is a disruptive force. A zero-segment marketing strategy involves understanding consumers at an individual level, including each facet of the consumer and personalizing individual messages leveraging analytics and machine learning. Knowing that a Celtics fan is also interested in California wines may allow a travel website to change what display ads appear or shift the messaging on experiential-based vacation packages. That kind of personalization is extremely powerful, especially in a marketplace where brands must constantly strive to be contextually relevant.
Zero-segment marketing starts with understanding customers across their entire path to purchase. This requires understanding consumers throughout the anonymous to known customer lifecycle, while still continuing the conversation throughout. A combination of business rules and machine learning can be leveraged to deliver personalized content. Business rules can determine who gets what message when, and machine learning can automate, scale, and optimize the message delivery process through the right channel.
Another component of delivering personalized experiences involves adopting an open garden strategy for customer engagement. With an open garden approach, retailers can leverage all of their current marketing technology to tie data about website purchases, in-store experiences, the customer journey, and offline analytics into a single point of operational control that ensures consistency and continuity of the customer experience across siloes. An open garden strategy also allows for future changes in data types and marketing stack because brands are not locked into a specific solution suite.
Customers increasingly have high expectations for retailers to deliver personalized, individualized experiences. Marketers must utilize personalization to attract and retain their customers because it ensures a more seamless and efficient purchase experience. Personalization matters significantly to customers because it makes them feel special when they are treated differently from others. Overall, a great personalization approach achieves a win-win situation, where customers always get the right message at the right time, and the company maximizes its business results.