Make it personalOur Canadian guest blogger Gerry Brown returns to CIL, with a series of 2 posts on using analytics for personalisation. How to make it personal.

Why does personalisation matter? What’s the value of that ‘personal touch’? How can you do it well? Over to Gerry…

A perfect match that develops lasting, profitable relationships

Early in the 20th century, two men, oceans apart in geography, but united in spirit and aspiration, dared to dream and married their personal philosophy to their business ambition.

Both businesses, which are alive and well more than 100 years later, are enduring memorials to their commitment to understanding what their customer really wanted, delivering exemplary service and treating customers and employees fairly . One based his ideas on his own experience as a hunter and fisherman to design and build a product that he knew others would want, and would pay for. The guiding principle of the company, then and now, is “sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit; treat your customers like human beings and they’ll always come back for more.”

Meanwhile in London at around the same time, another idealistic and forward thinking man joined the family business. A few years later he assumed total responsibility and introduced ideas and principles that would change the shape of retail, and employee relationships, for better and for good. This man was an early adopter of the maxim that “happy employees mean happy customers.” But he took that way beyond a slick slogan to incorporate principles of partnership and mutuality that continue to drive the business forward in a positive and caring way.

By now you’ve probably recognized this second company as John Lewis and are probably familiar with their business model and have experienced their legendary service. However, it will be our North American friends who will be more familiar with the first business, LL Bean.

The company began as a one-room operation selling a single product, the Maine Hunting Shoe (known currently as the L.L.Bean Boot). Leon Leonwood Bean had developed a waterproof boot that he sold to hunters. He obtained a list of non-resident Maine hunting license holders, prepared a descriptive mail order circular, set up a shop in his brother’s basement in Freeport, Maine, and started a nationwide mail order business. This was a very early example of targeted, personalized and relevant marketing. This approach has led them to survive and prosper and now employs over 5,000 people and has annual sales in excess of $1.60 million.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

These are outstanding examples of retail organizations that treat us the way we want and expect and seem to anticipate our every need and more. They are unfortunately in the minority, which they celebrate, especially as other retailers often leave us feeling like Oliver Twist at supper time. Many of us, at least those that remember, yearn for the “good old days” when companies really knew us, recognized us and tailored offers to us. When we could walk into a store or shop and be greeted warmly and enthusiastically by name and have items personally picked out for us.

But the world has changed and we are increasingly squeezed for time, short on patience and inhabit a world where the on-line stores where we hang out haven’t read the memo about knowing your customer and understanding their needs. When poorly targeted, irrelevant communications hit your mail box, or your smart phone, it means that the company doesn’t really know who you are, where you are, what you may have purchased or shown an interest in recently. And, despite being a loyal customer, who they should know about, they still send the dive bombers in to spray and pray with plane loads of disconnected offers that waste your time, and their money. So do the brands that you buy from know the first thing about you? Certainly many that I deal with don’t have a clue and certainly don’t personalize the content for me.

Businesses are wasting their money and their customers’ time by not delivering clearly targeted and personally crafted marketing and service communications that use a range of accurate, frequently changing indicators such as location, sentiment, mood and influence. These are the new flags that consumers are waving but so often are not seen by companies, who fail to read the signs, connect the dots and match the customer with choices that best meet their needs.

Are you free?

In “Are you being served?” Capt. Peacock from Grace Brothers frequently opened the door for a new and delightful double entendre when he asked one of his sales assistance, if they were free. This often resulted in an equally delighted and visibly excited Mr Humphries when he spotted a kindred spirit and a man after his own heart, so to speak. Aside from getting a cheap laugh, he was effectively matching up a customer with the best person who could meet his needs. I’m not sure where is this going? But I think you get the picture.

This ability to match customers with the right resource who could find and show products that the customer wanted was a much simpler proposition when we all flocked to the High St. or Main St. Generating customer loyalty quickly and increasing average revenue per customer is a far more complex matter for most online stores; a matter of providing the right experience to users, showing the right product(s), at the right time and on the right page, and doing so across a near-infinite number of different customer types. To be successful and profitable, companies must adopt a segmented, personalised, and clearly targeted strategy for business acquisition, retention, customer service and long-term profitability.

It really comes down to a fairly simple, but often challenging, premise of delivering the right message to the right people, via the right channel at the right time. And we need answers to some fundamental questions to be able to start that process:

  • How do we know who and where our customers are and their specific interests, to target and engage them more effectively?
  • How do we ensure that all interactions across multiple channels and other key data are integrated to provide a complete and current picture of your customers and prospects?
  • How can we align our strategy around acquisition, sales conversions, retention and loyalty?
  • How, when and why should we deliver personalised experiences to different customers?

But how do we reconcile this with the understandable concerns about communication overload, security, personal data exploitation, identity theft and other real and immediate risks that we run if we open our personal history kimono too wide?

Tune in for Part 2, next week, to find out!