Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How to bring creativity back into personalised marketing

By Jil Maassen, Lead Strategy Consultant at Optimizely.

Over the past couple of years, any digital marketing campaign or customer experience platform worth its salt has had at least some emphasis on personalisation. Tech giants Netflix and Spotify changed consumer expectations by harnessing data to serve up tailored recommendations. They set a high bar for every sector to match when it comes to user experience. Supporting this, a recent survey from RedPoint Global found that 63 percent of consumers expect personalisation as a standard of service and believe they are recognised as an individual when sent special offers. 

Businesses unable to offer some form of personalised experience are immediately on the back foot. It is vital for organisations to meet customers where they are, with relevant, tailored content. This is why customer-centricity has become a focus for many brands at the board level. Echoing this, Optimizely’s 2019 Digital Experience Economy Report found that 82% of decision making executives in the UK talk about having a customer-first focus. In the same way a local pub landlord knows all their regulars by name, data now allows all businesses to replicate this on a massive scale.

But not all companies are getting it right. The same report from RedPoint Global also found that over a third (34%) of customers are increasingly frustrated by being sent an offer for a recently purchased item, and 31% of consumers claim that businesses regularly fail to recognise them as returning customers.

Doing personalisation badly can be more detrimental than not doing it at all. At a time when consumers are spending more time and money online than ever before, it is only those who can offer a seamless, personalised experience who will win and retain customers.

Needles in the haystack

As businesses across sectors scramble to get online and take advantage of the rapidly expanding digital customer base, standing out is increasingly difficult. So how have brands traditionally stood out against competitors? The answer has swayed over the years from price, to user experience, to product quality, and everything in between. Regardless of which is true, it is impossible to stand out without offering something different. When it comes to personalisation, businesses in the same sector will often have near-identical data at their fingertips, and slightly modifying your approach based on the same insight can only get you so far. 

For example, take a millennial buyer purchasing a cooking class for their aunt, a ping pong table for their niece and a pair of hiking boots for themself. Ultimately, this is going to wreak havoc with the retail site’s algorithm. 

Just because customers have engaged with a product, doesn’t mean that you have captured their intention. In the digital age, businesses have the ability to carry out a meta-analysis into customer behavior, and better predict what customers will engage with in the future. 

For example, let’s say I have been ordering jigsaw puzzles from Foyles, and a record player from John Lewis. From this, businesses could make an educated guess that I am preparing my nest for a potential second lockdown. Rather than advertising other record players which I no longer need, businesses could recommend sofas or new bedding which would make my home interior more lockdown-friendly. To approach the customer journey with more creativity, we need to rethink how we are getting insights from customer data.

Another important process is understanding which function works best in which area of the site, and how users navigate and behave on the page. We need to continually shake up our approach to build a more personalised customer experience. To do this, the marketing needs the autonomy to try different tactics, monitor feedback in real-time, and scale up or down accordingly. This is how businesses can implement an innovative approach to personalisation.

Fail more

The key ingredient to innovation is continuous change. A game-changing idea doesn’t just come out of the blue, it is usually a result of tens or hundreds of failures. Innovative leaders understand that creativity isn’t a singular thing which can be bought or sold, it is a process. You need the freedom to continually try new things and fail before you find the winning recipe. Still, in the world of customer experience, your work is never done. Consumers continue to expect more, and it is your job to deliver it. 

Despite this, current corporate structures are often set up to chastise failure, which is stifling their ability to innovate. Our report revealed a quarter (25%) of UK business decision-makers have a culture where failure is not an option. These failures are fundamental to businesses fostering a more creative approach in their marketing and user experience. For example, if a retailer tried to put product recommendations during the check-out process, but found that it increased the dropout rate, the insight they gained about their customer-base is invaluable. They can now use this to inform their future decisions around their interface, and work out how to put additional product recommendations and upsell opportunities earlier in the sales funnel.

This shouldn’t just sit in one team, this is an approach which works best if it is fundamental to the culture of the company. As such, businesses can benefit from giving everyone the autonomy to adjust customer-facing touchpoints. 

Reaching the customers

Customer-facing staff and contact centre floors are untapped living resources which harbour a huge amount of insight into customer needs and habits These insights simply don’t exist within the walls of the corporate office. Giving a voice to workers who are engaging with customers every day is important to understanding your customers. Whether something is wrong, or working well, organic feedback must be used in tandem with data to inform a creative approach to personalisation.

Ultimately, to foster creativity in personalisation, businesses need a combination of data, real customer insight, and good old fashioned common sense. This is the key to reaching the customer.