Putting the Person Back Into Personalization
Recently I spoke at IRCE about personalization. The conference organizers asked me to address “advanced applications of personalization technology and its results, keying in on the more advanced applications of personalization technology most consumers won’t immediately recognize as 'personalized,' but that drive positive outcomes.”
Their request was understandable. We're learning more and more about how giants like Netflix and Amazon.com are creating unique experiences for each visitor through a combination of deep machine learning, artificial intelligence, algorithms, segmentation and good-old browsing/purchase history. Marketers are eager to learn how their experiences can have the latest and greatest technology and create experiences on the fly.
It all sounds so magical — and easy. But once again, the glitter of technology distracts us from how to best build relationships with our customers. The best personalized experience, if not identifiable as such by the customer, will convert. However, it won’t delve into deeper learnings through conversation, it won’t enable feedback, and it won’t get “credit” for aiming to better serve the customer. In short, “invisible” personalization misses a chance to build relationships. It misses a chance to make customers feel special.
There's no reason not to leverage machine learning and AI if you can, but while doing so you brand should consider the following tips.
Customers are accustomed to personalized recommendations. They understand they're based on previous visits and purchases. However, if you're not transparent about the fact that the content or products being displayed are based on an attempt to make the experience, you miss a chance to speak directly to customers.
I love Open Table’s transparency. It’s so simple. I trust its expertise given its data on reviews, ratings and similar menus/price points. I know Open Table is highlighting restaurants that it thinks I would like versus the most popular.
Sure, you may know where a customer is located, the referring URL, the device they're on, their previous browsing history, past purchases and other demographic data, BUT do you know what they want today? What are their pain points? What styles do they like?
Stitch Fix deftly balances explicit data (i.e., what the customer tells it directly) with implicit data (i.e., what it know without the customer telling it). The subscription retailer has developed a brilliant cycle of asking for input, matching it to an algorithm, getting feedback, and then refining the algorithm.
Tie Personalization to Loyalty
How do you ensure that your personalization drives deeper relationships? How do you connect your personalization efforts across channels? Tie it to your loyalty program and vice versa? Really, personalization and loyalty are two sides of the same coin. Your loyalty program has the data you need to refine your personalization, and personalized recommendations done right deepen loyalty and capture more data. It's a virtuous cycle of learning, recommending and rewarding.
Sephora is an industry leader when it comes to omnichannel personalization because its loyalty program is the foundation of its recommendations and reminders.
Start Simple and Start With A Road Map
AI is sexy, sure, but you know what else is sexy? Driving results with simple personalization tactics like segmenting new/current customers or geolocation.
Through my work, I help brands start simple and evolve with personalization road maps. These road maps help establish an overall vision, path customer journeys, identify data sources, leverage existing technology, determine the need for new technology, and set phases for an evolution from simple to advanced.
Personalization is certainly a hot topic, and as technology advances so will its applications. However, unless brands and marketers are willing to do their homework and build meaningful, honest relationships with loyal customers, the “person” element of the process is lost, and the user experience will fall flat.
Bridget Fahrland is head of digital strategy at Astound Commerce, a global digital commerce agency.