Personalisation: What’s Appropriate, and When?

Pamela Bath

techpenPersonalisation is like loyalty; everybody talks about it, but we all have a completely different take on what it truly means. To me, true personalisation references customers’ history and predicts future behaviours, delivering current, relevant communication at all touch points. But there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach and the level of communication varies dramatically between types of brands and types of consumer.

So at what level does personalisation come into play, and how much is too much?

Ultimately, this depends entirely on what you’re buying. If I’ve recently spent a lot of money on a new car, I’d like my local dealership to recognise me when I walk in. It’s the same with my garage; they know the history of my car, the problems I’ve had with it; they can make suggestions or remind me about things, and to me that’s a really enriching and personal experience.

If I’ve given valuable custom, whether it’s spending a lot of money on a car or paying frequent visits to store, I want to be recognised, and for my experience to be personal to me. I want you, as a brand, to know the value of me – whether I’m a customer or simply a regular enquirer. I expect you to have that information and use it for my benefit, not just yours. And I want you to reflect my loyalty by giving me something of value in return.

But have you ever visited a store where your transaction process was personalised? You could argue that as part of the purchase process, the more someone spends, the more the store is required to personalise the experience. But do any brands out there have a point-of-sale system – beyond things like Catalina – that actually talks in real-time to your customer database? The reason this doesn’t exist is because there’s no overarching strategy for how the entire face-to-face experience fits together.

Many consumers’ relationships begin with their retail experience – and that experience could be enhanced by being recognised and treated as an individual. Recognition develops trust, and trust develops a relationship. And once a customer is engaged in that relationship and feels comfortable with your brand, the more profitable that relationship can become: any relationship will only work if both sides are invested in it.

But consumers don’t want all their interactions to be personalised. I would quite like to have a relationship with my local corner shop, for instance, but I’m quite happy for my bank to remain a faceless monolith – and it’s not because they make money out of me; I just don’t want to walk into a bank and they know who I am or how much is in my account. It’s the same with my doctor; there are a number of facets of your life where your level of privacy rises.

Forced Personalisation

Conversely, personalisation can go too far; the forced personalisation of being made to give my name in order to get a coffee at Starbucks is, to me, infuriating. But the main area where personalisation can go too far is in the online world. Personalising your newsfeed and home page are one thing; personalising the online retail journey is a step too far; it doesn’t take us, as people, into account and is purely based on algorithms. I don’t want to be told ‘we think you’ll like this because you looked at some trainers last week’; well, that was last week – now I’m interested in something else.

If you’re going to step into someone’s online personal space, then it would only be polite to allow them a degree of control – remove from ‘Favourites’, or save ‘Liked’ items or switch off ‘Recommendations’ – they’ll think better of you! You could also ask, as part of the visit, what they were looking for – then recommendations are part of the value exchange.

It’s about having that intrinsic understanding of your audience and pitching your relationship with them accordingly. A lot of this comes down to a brand’s individual persona – one beauty brand we work with makes use of ‘friendship marketing’ and treats all their customers as if they were friends. It’s an interesting approach because it challenges the old concept of personalisation, which is to think about how you would actually talk to someone if they were a friend or there in person.

Friendship Marketing

Friendship marketing only really works here because the industry they’re in is very sociable and people-orientated, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for most sectors. The luxury goods market, for instance, isn’t facilitating friendship, it’s more about self-gratification. The seller needs to understand where they fit within the scale of desired customer relationships, from ‘anonymous’ to ‘I love you’.

So personalisation means different things to different people – and brands need to flex their dialogue based on their sector, their positioning, their proposition and their customers; that is to say – personalise your personalisation!

For more personalisation tips and advice, download our whitepaper

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