Why Personalization Is Imperative For Brands To Meet Customer Expectations
UX Corner

Why Personalization Is Imperative For Brands To Meet Customer Expectations

David Bolton • April 5, 2017

“It comes down to the digitalization of everything, the fact that so much of people’s experience is online or digital in one form or another.”

Brands that aren’t making their customer experiences as personal as possible could become digital dinosaurs.

Digital has not only increased customer expectations, but also led people to assume that companies or brands have all the data that they need to tailor an experience to their personal requirements. And while personalization can still sound like a marketing buzzword, it is the cornerstone of the customer journey in the digital realm.

To put it simply, people just expect that their individual experience with technology will be as painless and seamless as possible … both physically and emotionally. Consumers have a plethora of options available to them, which means that companies have to get the experience right on every level. In most cases, data is the key to the successful digital experience.

A recent report by IDC said that 2017 was the dawn of the digital experience economy. Companies have to become “digital native” to succeed, with investments in digital experience expected to be break through the $2 trillion mark by 2019. Over the next two years, companies will need to adopt what IDC referred to as a 3rd Platform that will include cloud, mobile, big data or analytics and social engagement—all of which will have to align with the concept of customer personalization.

According to Boston-based personalized marketing software provider Kitewheel’s president Mark Smith, leveraging the data is a logical first step. “If you know who somebody is, you can make the experience personalized,” said Smith. “But it is the data that allows marketers to do it successfully.”

Customer Experience Defines Level Of Engagement

The customer experience boils down to two aspects, Smith said.

At a very basic level, brands need to focus on the uniformity of the message to a customer via the various digital channels available—the oft-cited omnichannel approach. Then these brands must align the systems that they currently use to reach all customers.

Every brand has access to technology and systems that constantly push messages to current and potential customers. For example, brands could use emails or social media or website-centric content to reach a certain demographic, but just having access to these platforms doesn’t mean that the message gets through.

The problem is that these systems don’t always align or have embedded rules that are specific to that one channel. Customers could exist in an email campaign or social media channel that may not dovetail with data held elsewhere. If a person appears in one “rule” but not in others, the chances for personalization are more limited.

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“All these things run off different sets of rules. That is what destroys the uniformity of the experience,” Smith said.

And it is the uniformity of the experience that defines how a customer engages with a brand. Companies don’t have to use every channel to get the message across but should focus instead on the customer preference. In other words, the channel(s) that worked in the past and the ones have gone down well with a particular customer.

Take push notifications, for example. On the one hand they can keep customers engaged and aware of what is going on. Brands can gather a significant amount of in-depth data from push notifications but they run the risk of being an annoying distraction.

Smith said that brands must get the delivery right, which means they must know what is the right data to get the message to its intended target.

“Data is the biggest thing that is driving personalization. The fact is that the data is there to allow you to do any of this in any way … personalized by knowing who the customer is,” he said. “It comes down to the digitalization of everything, the fact that so much of people’s experience is online or digital in one form or another. This includes both the ad experience and the marketing experience … data comes off the back of these things that is allowing personalization to happen.”

Humans Must Be A Priority In Digital Experience

Of course, the concept of a personalized experience is not rocket science.

The goal of personalization is to match a specific need or interest to one or more people with no real effort expended on the part of the target. The ubiquitous computer in the pocket has just made personalization easier. And companies are more aware than ever before that they need to not only differentiate the experience but also entice both known and unknown customers.

In fact, any decision maker who takes a quick trawl around the Internet looking for evidence of real-world impacts of personalization will not have to scroll past page one of their chosen search engine.

For example, a report by Boston Retail Partners said that more and more retailers are focused on improved personalization as a digital priority. According to BRP’s Personalizing the Customer Experience study [PDF], the ability of customers to shop, research and—ultimately—purchase products on a 24/7 basis has raised the bar to such a level that companies that have not either integrated personalization or are not planning to do so will lose out.

With that in mind, Payments.com reported that a consumer survey conducted by appointment scheduling software provider TimeTrade said that people were likely to increase their in-store spending by around 4.7% if that retailer provided a more personalized experience. That might seem like a small increase, but it equates to around $150 billion in unrealized retail revenue, the TimeTrade survey said.

Smith cites the example of how a personalized landing page can have a big impact on how long a customer stays on a site. In theory, the subtle altering of a landing page to be more personal can install behavioral changes in a customer by offering low frequency but specific content—“personalized” ads, for example.

“I feel it’s like is going back up the funnel into the acquisition phase. You don’t really know who these customers are; they’re just viewing your ads,” he said. “The more and more that you can track those views and understand where the ads fit in or seem to work, then you can use that information to personalize the experience when they arrive on the website.”

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At the end of the day, the customer journey has to start somewhere.

Brands have two options available—the known customer and the anonymous customer. The requirement to react in real-time to a customer arriving in-store or via an app or website means that brands need to know how to guide customers from one channel to another. The so-called omnichannel approach may seem to be the logical way to proceed but the challenge is (once again) to make sure these different digital experiences work everywhere and every device.

“That’s where all the brands want to go,” said Smith. “They want to make the experience work everywhere … no matter where the customer goes, they want to sell them the right next product.”

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