Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

A CMO’s guide to effective personalisation

For the past decade it has been a marketer’s Holy Grail – hyper-personalisation at scale. But is the era of one-to-one communications over, and why (or not)? NDA is talking to experts in the space for a series of articles on effective personalisation strategies, new technologies and innovations, and best practice approaches.

By Paige O’Neill, CMO, Sitecore

While the pandemic has wreaked havoc across our healthcare systems, financial markets, and the way we do business, it is more important than ever that we are sensitive to the ways in which we reach out to and connect with our customers and communities. We should be viewing them through a human lens and giving customers the grace period they need to transition during these strange times.

Companies are forced to re-think, re-invent, re-engage and re-imagine the ways in which they connect with customers. The way we approach personalisation is key, because while we cannot control what’s happening around us, we can control how to respond to it. But even before the pandemic took hold, many marketers found it difficult to personalise effectively.

In fact, research from SoDA commissioned by Sitecore, found that less than 40% of marketing leaders and C-level executives have implemented basic targeting criteria for personalisation: Purchase History (38%), Browsing History (28%), Referral Source (24%) and Session Click-stream Data (20%).

To be able to effectively engage with customers, brands must stay in sync with them and that has never been more important than during this pandemic. Customers have high expectations – not only do they expect to be able to engage on whatever channel they want, whenever they want, but they also expect brands to remember who they are, and then to personalise their interactions accordingly. If brands don’t offer this kind of fast, convenient, and personalised customer experience, customers leave.

What’s holding CMOs back from delivering personalised marketing?

Most organisations have access to a wealth of customer data, so it’s not a lack of information about customer preferences or purchase history that is stopping marketing teams from tailoring experiences and delivering personalisation. Instead, our research found that CMOs and marketers are being held back by:

  • Overconfidence. Two-thirds (67%) of marketers ranked themselves as ‘experts’ or ‘masters’ of personalisation. In reality, though, most are still stuck at broad segmentation or are targeting specific groups of consumers, rather than honing in and tailoring content to customers on an individual basis.
  • A lack of budget. The vast majority of marketers believe that personalisation is a ‘major competitive advantage’ or an ‘important’ factor in their business, but over 40% reported that they do not have the funding to be able to deliver more personalised content. I suspect this is because IT teams and C-Suite leaders still aren’t connecting the dots about the role marketing technology plays in sophisticated personalisation. To secure the additional funding required, CMOs need to demonstrate the value of personalisation and win the buy-in and support of other teams.
  • The pace of change in customer needs and expectations. Customer needs are changing faster than ever, and this is not just due to technology advances but also the impact the pandemic is having on how customers interact with products and services. While at the beginning of the pandemic people were focused on buying essentials such as food and medicine, consumer spending has shifted to home improvement and digital subscriptions, as consumers look for ways to enjoy their time at home. Retailers and other consumer brands need to keep this in mind and reach out to customers with personalised offers that go beyond customer their expectations.

How to overcome the roadblocks to personalisation

Although marketers understand the need to personalise, and may be doing so to some extent, many are confused or uncertain about what steps to take next in the current climate. To overcome this, CMOs need to:

  • Start small. Direct your attention to a few, selected small wins. Choosing one area of personalisation to focus on, for example by targeting a specific platform or focusing on increasing appropriate repeat purchases, can improve customer experience in an area that is important to the business and enable marketing teams to make incremental steps towards an overall personalisation goal.
  • Focus. You need to deliver the right content at the right time and in the right context. While the content itself matters, being able to offer customers a personalised recommendation, image, or offer at the exact moment they are looking for it, and on whichever platform they are using—whether that’s on the web, an app or instore—is the key differentiator between simple personalisation and advanced, effective personalisation at scale.
  • Demonstrate ROI. Remove any uncertainty or ambiguity around a personalisation strategy by demonstrating clear ROI. Once you have this proof, it is much easier to explain how a personalisation strategy can benefit other departments and support their objectives. Outline your overall vision and show how different tactics can be applied to achieve your goals. Then, explain how this personalisation strategy can benefit other departments and align with the objectives of the wider business. 

Three steps to establish a clear path to personalisation

Once organisational and personalisation roadblocks have been overcome, it’s time to put a clear path to personalisation in place. I suggest following these three steps:

  1. Define a roadmap. While a personalisation strategy outlines how an organisation can personalise customer experience, a roadmap lays out the required steps in more detail. It not only gives marketing teams a clearly defined vision for how personalisation efforts will grow, but also provides the path to follow. Develop a longer-term roadmap that includes incremental goals and desired outcomes, so you can track, review, and improve as you progress.
  • Prioritise personalisation. Personalisation should be built into marketing efforts from the very beginning, not left as an afterthought. To be successful, it should be the core focus of a CMOs overall marketing programme from the outset and should be deeply ingrained into all marketing and sales funnels.
  • Put the right systems in place. Finally, it’s vital that the technology that supports personalisation works in real-time and with the required agility to understand and react. This requires marketers to step up their development of data strategies that allow them to collect and understand data insights. This is already on the agenda of many CMOs for the near future, as the SoDA research found that over the next two years, data & analytics and technology platforms are ranked as the top two investment priorities (38% and 33%, respectively).

These three steps will get you started, but it is important to understand that effective personalisation is continually evolving. You may have to crawl first, then walk, jog, and run — just keep putting your customers’ unique needs at the centre of everything you do.

If you are aware and respectful of customer needs during this stressful time and offer them support by listening and responding properly, they will continue to grow with you and value the brand.