The meaning of personalisation is a fluid chameleon, and a new definition seems to rise every few months around how marketers should be personalising their efforts to reach the desired audience. Kieron McCann looks at the new anatomy of personalisation
It’s been 60 years since Lester Wunderman first invented the idea of direct mail and so first introduced the concept of personalised messaging to individual consumers. It took the wider advertising industry a few years to wrap its collective head around the concept and it wasn’t until five years later in 1963, that Wunderman’s company became the first direct mail agency to be admitted into the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
This was swiftly followed by half a century of mailboxes filled to bursting with “personal offers” addressed – if you were lucky – to you, or more often than not to someone with just a rough approximation of your name. The industry latched onto the idea that the more personalised the approach the more likely it was to be read. Unfortunately, over the next 40 years it became clear the (over) familiarity would inevitably breed contempt.
Searching for the holy grail of personalisation
The advent of the internet and with it digital advertising brought new opportunities for targeting, personalisation and an altogether more tailored offering. At least in theory. What it can often mean is the jacket, shoes or car you spent five seconds pondering online continues to stalk you as you browse for months on end, like an obsessed ex.
Nowadays, the average length of time we have a conversation with a client about digital marketing without someone mentioning personalisation is approximately four nanoseconds. While everyone demands personalisation, getting personalisation right is the real holy grail of digital as, sitting on top of a smart e-commerce platform it can drive instant, measurable results to the bottom line.
The steady move to e-commerce both contributes to and confuses the need for personalisation. Even the most traditional companies with a century of experience in selling through distributors, dealers and partners now actively look for ways to incorporate e-commerce into their channel mix. But this can be an unwieldy beast as, traditionally, e-commerce and customer experience have been separate from each other. Customer experience, where relationships are first created and nurtured via the digital shop window represent the ‘heart’ of a brand, while the e-commerce engine, powering transactions, represents the ‘head’. For a truly personalised experience, head and heart need to work in unison.
A joined-up approach requires a substantial investment in digital platforms, data capability and a whole new way of working. The commerce experience tends to take place behind login walls, interacting with enterprise systems and often on an entirely different technical platform, managed by a separate team to the marketing-driven shop window. This means personalisation is also disjointed. The front-end shop window might use geo-targeting, device analysis or time of day to create a personalised experience and recommendations while the back-end, logged inside of a business can use more specific customer data to proactively suggest products – a model that we are all used to with companies like Amazon.
The rise of ‘headless e-commerce’
However, the needs of the consumer and therefore an organisation’s response to this is changing. Customer experience is now recognised as a journey that connects all touchpoints, meaning that personalisation needs to seamlessly span multiple channels regardless of where the customer is. As a result, the concept of ‘headless e-commerce’ is starting to gain traction, recognising customer experience is best handled by a unified experience platform for a more harmonious approach.
This recognises that the path to personalisation may begin way before a customer reaches a site. Advances in programmatic advertising can now not only crunch the analytics on visitor data before displaying an advert but can apply dynamic creative to assemble a creative execution targeted at that individual. This data can be passed onto the website on click through, replacing the outdated concept of a ‘landing page’ as the site itself can be fully personalised for the visitor – down the product or service recommendations determined even before a customer reaches the e-commerce engine.
We are already seeing clients adopt this approach to dynamically change their homepage to display the products, offers, financing options and other features that they have determined will resonate most with their site visitors. Crucially, this can be done without using any personally identifiable data and so avoids issues around GDPR.
Once the customer reaches the logged-in experience, then the granularity of data increases exponentially and new AI tools help to bring this information together rapidly with customer-specific data such as purchase histories aligned to other sophisticated data sources. For example, Asos can use AI to match clothing images that customers upload to similar items in their catalogue. Some tools even combine this with external data such as local weather forecasts to tweak recommendations – imagine if Asos can suggest an umbrella that matches the new coat you bought last week that can be delivered with a drone to your office just as the heavens open? Then you’re truly living in the year 3000!
Applications for B2B marketing
This innovation isn’t just a consumer offering but can also be applied within B2B marketing. The advantage with B2B businesses is that they tend to have a great deal of depth in their customer insights and interactions making personalisation easier. Additionally, e-procurement is becoming much more widespread within B2B and when personalisation is part of this process, organisations can really reap the rewards. Cognifide is currently working with a client who sells exclusively through a distributor channel and are working to personalise their e-procurement platform to ensure retailers are receiving proactive product recommendations based not only on their purchase history but seasonality and localised data trends.
This blend of heart and head is the only way to truly create a meaningful personalised experience that transcends organisational silos and enhances the customer journey, driving better commercial returns for all.