The lovely folk at Braze, a comprehensive customer engagement platform that powers relevant and memorable experiences between consumers and the brands they love., invited me along to talk about personalisation and how to get it right at their Forge City x City London 2021 event in October.
Now, I’ve only done a few face-to-face events since things started to open up, so I was both excited and a little nervous about this one.
The main thrust of my talk was that there is overwhelming data that shows that customers want personalised experiences and brands want to deliver personalised experiences to them. The data also shows that brands know that if they do it well, it positively impacts the relationships they have with customers, their level of engagement with them, their perception of their experience, and it also boosts conversion rates.
However, while many brands are getting it right (and we heard from a number of Braze customers at the event that were getting it right), many others are struggling to deliver the personalised experiences that customers want.
Digging into the research surrounding this suggests that while marketers cite the lack of or quality of the data they have on customers, the biggest problem seems to lie with a lack of a shared understanding of what personalisation means for customers and brands.
NTT’s 2021 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking Report found that “organisations and consumers have different views of what personalisation means”, with consumers saying that personalisation is “not about how well the organisation knows them, but how well the organisation is listening to them, and how efficiently and effectively they respond to needs.”
The NTT report goes on to say that “Consumers are more interested in being able to choose how they engage with organisations – and having those choices respected – than receiving what organisations think are helpful reminders, or proactive offerings in an attempt to upsell or cross-sell to them. They’re also wary about sharing personal data so companies can send them personalised information.”
To bridge that gap in understanding will require brands to not just collect more data but to seek out better data. That means they will need to do different things to build a deeper understanding of their customers, their preferences and what a personalised experience means for them.
One way to achieve this is to add a zero-party or declared data approach to their personalisation strategy. I believe this type of approach will be the difference between the brands that succeed and those that don’t.
To illustrate what that could look like in practice, I shared an industry example from Boden, the UK clothing retailer, during my talk. Rather than focusing on collecting more data and then inferring what a good and personalised experience could look like, they eschew that approach and directly ask their customers what a personalised experience would look like for them.
They do that by collecting three or four data points that go way beyond the standard transactional or behavioural data they would normally collect and focus on collecting more psychographic data, i.e. ‘The why behind the buy,’ if you like, to uncover what really motivates a consumer.
That allows them to deliver a much more personalised experience to their customers and has allowed them to achieve a 33-34% increase in their cart size and around a 52-53% higher conversion rate.
Now, when I shared that story and those numbers during my talk, a number of eyebrows were raised and eyes widened in the audience.
I took this as a sure sign that those numbers are way beyond the incremental gains that many marketers see coming from their own personalisation efforts.
This type of approach, where brands co-create a personalised experience with their customers to achieve that shared understanding, was echoed by George Rawlings, co-founder & CEO at Thursday, a dating app and Braze customer. He told a story about how they pivoted from their previous incarnation, Honeypot, which was focused on same day matching and dating, to their current form.
What happened was that while Honeypot achieved a lot of downloads, they weren’t happy with the scale and traction they were achieving. So, they dug into their data and discovered a spike in usage around Thursday every week. That led them to think that Thursday might be the ideal dating day, but it also made them wonder what would happen if they re-focused their app to being open on Thursdays only. They tested this idea with a few focus groups and found that it really resonated with their users. They also found that it made the prospect of using their app more exciting, different and much more appealing to users and that it would deliver a much more personalised, engaging and relevant experience.
These two examples illustrate how engaging your customers in a conversation about what is relevant, engaging or personalised is a more effective way of achieving improved outcomes.
So far, so good, right?
Clear message backed up by data, research, case studies and sign-posts to a better way.
Not so fast.
In the Q&A part of another session, one attendee, when asking a question, prefaced it with the following comment: “putting Adrian’s idealistic ideas aside….”
Now, I was sitting in the audience when this comment was made, and when I heard it, my heart sank a little.
It sank because their comment implied that what I was suggesting was potentially too hard or too different to do. Or, maybe they were not willing to try something new that might not work to achieve better outcomes.
It is clear that there is a lot of talk about failing fast, being agile, and learning that floats around the business conversation. But, much of it is just that: talk.
That needs to change.
Adam Faquirbhai, Director of Marketing at Reed.co.uk and Braze customer, described this brilliantly in a panel fireside chat at the event when he said:
“I think a lot of businesses have this fear of failure and failing, and therefore they don’t try anything new, innovative or creative. And that’s a mistake. I think what marketing teams should definitely be doing is testing often and with different things. And, if you fail, then that’s fine. Pick yourself up and try something new. Ultimately, what you will end up doing is finding something that works really well for your business that is replicable.”
The fact of the matter is that the technology that marketers have at their disposal is very powerful. Look at the Braze customer engagement platform. It’s easy to use, v cool and v powerful. But simply having the right tools isn’t enough—marketers need to prioritize understanding their customers better and building a shared understanding of what personalisation means to see the full value of this kind of technology.
That may require them to try out new approaches. And not all those approaches are going to work. Many marketers struggle to step outside of their comfort zones and embrace a forward-looking, customer-centric approach, but if they aren’t able to make that shift, they’re likely to find themselves disappointed with their personalisation efforts. On the other hand, marketers who can make that leap will be the ones who reap tomorrow’s rewards.
Thanks to Ryan McGuire on Pixabay for the image.