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Personalisation – chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

Back in 1993, Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, published “The One to One Future.”  The authors predicted that the future of marketing would focus on individual customers versus mass messaging. By 2010 that prediction was becoming a reality, as Amazon introduced product recommendations via its web platform. In the early days, this feature gave customers the option to buy items that were related to their purchase, which revolutionised the way products were discovered and bought.

At a similar time, Netflix was also on a personalisation journey of its own. With a catalogue of 2,600 DVDs in 1999 and aspirations to build its catalogue to over 100,000, they knew the value of their offering would only be truly understood by consumers if they were able to drive discovery. To make it easier for members to find movies, Netflix developed a personalised merchandising system. Initially, it focused on DVDs, but in 2007, Netflix launched streaming, which used the same personalisation system.

Ever since Amazon and Netflix took the market by storm with personalisation, brands have envied their approach so much so that many have been looking to emulate it and chase the elusive dream of delivering personalisation at scale.

rainbow on hand

The upside of personalisation

In pursuit of attracting the modern-day busy consumer, personalisation has become a table-stake to effectively compete. Numerous studies point to consumer expectations and importance placed on personalisation. In 2021, a McKinsey report once again reinforced its importance, finding that the vast majority of consumers not only expect it, but they get frustrated when they don’t find it. Whilst an Australian Deloitte study found that not only do consumers expect it, but 57% place moderate to high value on it.

But personalisation isn’t just good for customers, it's good for the bottom line. The same study by McKinsey suggests that personalisation often delivers a 10 – 15% revenue lift if leveraged effectively. However, its study suggested digitally native companies are the ones that are seeing the biggest gains, as personalisation isn’t simply how they market but is embedded in how they operate.

Despite its value, many brands are still struggling to progress beyond basic levels of personalisation. The privacy study from Deloitte in 2022 found that only 30% of consumers are happy with the current online experiences provided by brands, showing a significant gap between the promises brands make in delivering personalised experiences and the reality of what they receive.

So how can brands close the expectation gap and begin to build maturity in the personalisation space?

The personalisation journey often goes awry early on...

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the words: "we want to be the Netflix of <insert brand>", I would be able to retire. Ever since Amazon and Netflix demonstrated the power of personalisation, brands have aspired to replicate their success. Whilst well known examples of Netflix and Amazon are helpful - because they are well known and people can relate - they aren’t often useful references for a brand's personalisation aspiration. Many brands don’t have the deep and vast troves of content to underpin personalisation endeavours to rival Netflix or Amazon, nor do they have the capability to leverage large behavioural datasets to drive relevant one-to-one recommendations at scale. Brands looking to progress their agenda in the personalisation space need to invest time in developing a well-defined vision and direction that clarifies the role and importance of personalisation in the context of their organisation, to bring their brand, experience and even product strategy to life. This needs to be built on the basis of an organisation's means, willingness and capability to invest.

Clarifying the role of personalisation across the customer journey

The problem with personalisation is that it means different things to different people. Personalisation can be driven through an array of platforms and channels across the customer journey. And here in lies the challenge; with many teams structured to support channels or a stage of the customer journey, personalisation can often be delivered in pockets or siloes, which results in a lacklustre experience that doesn’t meet consistently deliver on customer expectations. The best personalisation strategies are those that have defined the moments that matter across the customer journey and overlaid with the opportunities where personalisation can deliver the most value from an experience standpoint. Brands need to consider where personalisation can;

  1. help the user by making it easier, faster and more enjoyable

  2. better support discovery and decision making

  3. recognise and reward the customer - and that extends well beyond marketing

Prioritising the right opportunities to demonstrate value and return

Just because you can personalise the experience doesn’t mean you should. When it comes to personalisation, brands can often be a hammer looking for a nut. Personalisation endeavours should be prioritised on the basis of those that will deliver the best outcomes for the customer and the organisation. Whilst testing and learning is important, some rigour needs to be applied to determining priorities, in order to tackle those that are likely to deliver a step change.

Breaking down data silos

Personalisation is only as good as the data powering it. Disparate sources of customer data can create significant challenges to deliver personalisation across channels. Often, personalisation efforts are constrained or limited to the data that is accessible or can be activated within an individual channel, e.g. a website leveraging behavioural data from onsite interaction or an email using data stored within the marketing automation platform.

Brands that are able to build maturity are those that understand the role data plays to enable the personalisation strategy. These brands work to bring together data from various sources into an environment that creates a single view of the customer that can be activated in real time (or near real time) when it matters.

Balancing privacy with personalisation

Whilst consumers desire highly personalised, relevant experiences, they are not willing to trade off their privacy to get it. In light of recent data breaches, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of what brands are collecting and why. According to the 2021 Privacy Report from Deloitte, 89% of consumers want the ability to erase their data from a brand, which demonstrates the control consumers are seeking in the digital age. What’s more, the 2022 study by Deloitte found that only 43% of consumers indicated that they are happy to share their personal information when they are aware of how their information will be used. This means brands need to work harder to gain trust and demonstrate the value of providing data in order to enable personalisation. Whilst Australian government legislation will force the hand of brands to evolve, there is an opportunity for brands to enable consumers to provide their preferences for personalisation directly, establishing a connection between the personalisation they receive and the personal information they have shared.


Need help with your personalisation and customer data strategy? Talk to us to find out how we are helping brands to build maturity and deliver a more personalised experience.


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