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Personalisation: How to build a successful strategy

8th Sep 2014
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With research indicating that 78% of consumers feel that personalised content has led to a deeper relationship with a brand, there is understandably a clamour for companies to adopt a more personal approach. Customers are increasingly demanding a more tailored service that more appropriately meets their needs, and are becoming more willing to share personal data to support this. Meanwhile, technology has matured to be able to support more targeted marketing.

All of this means that the stars are aligning for those organisations that are looking to embrace personalisation.

“In the last decade, digital technology has given retailers the ability to forge a personal relationship with customers, enabling an increased understanding of what customers want, how they shop, their stage in life, tastes, habits and so on,” says Jaye Taylor, marketing executive at RETAIL ASSIST. “Personalisation, when done right, correctly identifies visitors and targets them with content that is more likely to engage them and to spur on a purchase. Delivering relevant product offers and personalised content to customers is how relationships can be established, giving customers what they want and putting them in control.”

It is apparent that personalisation is already beginning to shape the retail landscape, but there are still some stumbling blocks to overcome. Not least of these is the fact that there does need to be upfront investment in the IT infrastructure.  

“Getting personalisation right requires an all-or-nothing approach,” warns Dave Peters, CEO and founder of Emagine. “The aim of personalisation is to foster a better customer relationship that is rooted in value and relevance for the individual; marketing to one, not many. It’s about understanding a customer’s needs and preferences and connecting with them in a manner that suits them in order to extract maximum customer value and protect the relationship.

“However, this involves upfront investment in critical enablers such as business intelligence infrastructure, data feeds, analytical resources and a multichannel campaign execution platform. Doing this without a robust strategy in place and without a checklist of goals to measure against would be a wasted investment.”

Indeed, without a strategic approach, personalisation efforts will never meet their potential – and could even be doomed to outright failure from the outset.

Simon Towner, divisional director of retail at Omnico Group, says: “A strategy allows you to define the objective and vision and work towards it, celebrating or correcting the thinking as you take steps towards it. The benefits of this is that you can collaborate and bring other teams on board to understand how the vision meets the overall company goal and the ways in which they can support it but also benefit from the critical thinking of others involved in the process.

“The true benefits however are further reaching than the internal ones; by taking a well thought out and planned approach you deliver consistency for the customer and, in an environment where shoppers engage with a brand in store, online, mobile, mail they really are shopping the brand not the channel, they want your brand to treat them in a consistent way. Consider the effort and cost of a well thought out marketing campaign to get a VIP shopper back in store, only to have them ignored at point of sale or stood in overly long queue or facing lack of stock. Now look at the retailers already deploying technology to greet that person by name and point out items they recently browsed online. The latter while requiring more effort, certainly completes the experience and delivers the right emotion to the shopper, converting the sale.”

Strategic preparation

So where do you start when building your personalisation strategy? To do the groundwork, it is important to find out your customers’ feelings about personalisation – remember, not all customers welcome it, with some even finding it intrusive. Therefore, you need to gauge your customers’ opinions on this so that you are clear about the level of personalisation that you should be aiming to provide – if any at all.

“Listen to your customers by gaining their views and feedback, find out what they really want,” recommends Taylor. “Learn and understand expectations, customer surveys can help obtain this kind of knowledge and with the growing number of social media platforms surveys can easily be placed in accessible environments to gain optimum feedback.

“Capturing data in-store can also be another way to undertake the groundwork on the journey to personalisation, gaining customer information and feedback at the point of sale. E-receipts not only generate a further way to obtain customer responses, but also give customers options, and ultimately a more convenient way in which to receive their receipts. The store then has the knowledge to put in place a personalisation strategy, resulting in a joined up on and offline personalisation approach.

By tailoring a customer’s experience both on and offline can ultimately uncover what is and isn’t working, this then arms the brand with the information needed to tweak their approach to customer requirements, ensuring a more successful outcome.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as customer data is the very foundation of personalisation, this is an important first step in the strategy-building process, and requires preliminary exploration. This means establishing whether you have sufficiently detailed data to undertake personalisation in the first place, and also to clarify which customers – if any - are more the main targets for personalised services and marketing. Carrying out this exercise will often help to establish what the key goals are – for instance, it could be that one of the main aims is to increase spend from a particular customer segment.

“Segmentation and decent data is the cornerstone of your personalisation strategy as is focusing on delivering one or two selected outcomes at a time,” says Towner. “Personalisation takes buyer groups and moves further forward going from groups and individuals. Looking at both existing customers and the groups you want to attract is equally important your existing shoppers can grow spend and frequency and advocacy but the new customers bring important incremental revenue.”

Peters adds: “The first step in a personalisation strategy is building as comprehensive a picture of the customer as possible. We call this ‘Behavioural DNA’ – millions of different features that range from elements that are specific to the company: past interaction history, communication preferences and spend patterns for example, to things that are personal to the customer such as age, sex, social media circles and influence. This can then be combined with contextual information such as location or even mood to determine the most relevant and valuable customer approach at any given time.” 

Key questions to ask and answer

There are then four main pillars of personalisation that need to be considered during the strategy-building process. Anand Subramaniam, VP of worldwide marketing at eGain, elaborates on some of the main questions concerning these pillars that need to be answered as part of the preparation process.

  • Context:

o   Communication: What channels of communication does the customer prefer? Social networks? Online portals? Phone? Does the customer use tablets or smartphones? Does he or she like to be engaged proactively whether in real-time (e.g. chat and cobrowse) or asynchronously (e.g. email)?

o   Behaviour: What has the customer done over time (e.g. past interactions, past purchases, social posts, etc.) and also in real-time during a specific interaction (e.g. what web pages were visited during an interaction, what items are on the shopping cart, how big is the shopping cart, etc.)?

o   Insight: Does the customer belong to a market segment that is not price-sensitive? Did the customer respond to product discounts or free shipping or both?

o   Intent: What is the customer intent for this interaction? Is she looking to buy something or get a problem solved? What really is her goal or problem?

o   Demographics and psychographics: What language does the customer speak? How old is the customer? What income group? What are his values and attitudes?

  • Content: With the global customer context, the business needs to provide personalised content, whether it is answers for customer questions or a document that the customer might be looking for. If it is answers to customer questions, is it presented in a way appropriate to the access device (mobile device) and access channel (for example, taking into account the character limitation for a tweet)?
  • Offers: With the global customer context, the business could make a highly relevant offer, whether it is for proactive chat, free shipping, or a product bundle.
  • People: Does the customer like to speak to a specific agent or group of agents? Does he prefer to speak to someone that is a native speaker of his language? Is your customer engagement system able to route the interaction appropriately?

Once there is clarity about these issues, the strategy then needs to answer the wider questions that are critically important to any business strategy.

  • What is the organisational objective and how can it be achieved?
  • Who are your customers and prospects, which ones are you targeting and what is the expected outcome?
  • What are the actual steps and time frame? Who owns them and how will they be measured?
  • What are the costs, what systems or process or people are needed, when is the expected return on investment?
  • How are the various channels and departments involved? How will we communicate on this and make it happen?

Taylor adds: “Identifying key goals for the coming year is an important aspect of generating an actionable strategy as it needs to be measurable, ensuring that you are having an effect with your personalisation strategy.”

And it is with a robust strategy in place that organisations give themselves the best possible chance of success.

“It’s no secret that personalisation results in better customer service, improved sales and enhanced customer loyalty. However, no personalisation is better than promised personalisation that is off the mark,” warns Subramaniam.

Taylor concludes: “We can no longer treat customers in a one-size-fits-all attitude approaching them in a tactical way. We need to increase online engagement to forge a much stronger and closer relationship with current and potential customers. This needs to be backed up with structure and robust online planning/strategy development.

“Personalisation helps create brand loyalty, having a good online personalisation strategy can be key in a consumers shopping experience, if a connection with a retailer’s brand can be formed this often has an effect on their buying decision. This presents a significant opportunity for the retailer to engage potential consumers, convert sales and maintain a trusting relationship.”

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