Why a great personalization strategy matters now more than ever

By and Jessica Blum | 4 minute read | April 13, 2020

As consumers grapple with their “new normal” and the rapid pace at which it evolves, their expectations and priorities will continue to shift. To remain relevant and helpful in these trying times, companies and brands must deliver contextualized and differentiated offers and experiences that directly map to consumers’ needs in the moment.

Now, more than ever, companies need to meet customers where they are

“Personalization” is not a new concept. Companies and brands have long sought to better engage valuable customers with tailored messages and experiences. Despite these efforts, there remains a gap between companies’ efforts to curate highly personalized experiences for customers and the actual customer’s experience. While 90% of companies view personalization as critically important or very important to their business strategies, just 39% of consumers report receiving relevant brand communications and only 41% report receiving valuable offers, according to a recent Forrester report entitled “Personalization Demystified.”

This gap between intent and reality stems from companies viewing personalization as a series of content-focused projects (e.g., marketing-led effort to push relevant ads to customers through an app), rather than an ongoing enterprise-wide journey powered by continuous learning and refinement. Without a holistic approach to personalization – supported by underlying organizational structure, culture, and tech & data strategy best suited to enable it – companies risk producing a fragmented experience for the customer that may come off as irrelevant, redundant, or even bothersome.

Imagine if, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, retailers could share real-time data through their app about the availability of goods at your local store location and funnel relevant information and offers specific to your locality. With a unified view of customer data across the enterprise, your pharmacy for example, could share hyperlocal guidance based on your past purchase history (e.g., you’re due for a refill of allergy medication but your local store is out of stock, we can deliver it directly to your home from an alternate location).

Whether your company is just starting to form a personalization strategy, fairly advanced, or in the process of shifting in light of the current pandemic, enabling a best-in class enterprise-wide journey will take time. Given the immediacy and magnitude of customer need right now, companies should explore short-term approaches to accelerate improvements to their current state personalization strategies, in line with a longer-term vision.

Align your brand’s “North Star” to personalization opportunities for “quick wins”

As a critical first step, companies need to move from a campaign-centric mindset toward an enterprise-wide approach, unified by a single vision for the future state customer experience (CX). If your organization hasn’t yet designed this purpose-based CX “North Star ” for the enterprise, consider bringing together representatives from different areas of your business (i.e., across sales, marketing, customer service, IT, etc.) to co-create it.

For example, a major food and beverage retailer with a hyper-local brand vision designed a CX North Star strategy focused on individualized experiences for every consumer who walks through their door or logs onto their app. From that future state CX vision, the retailer worked backwards to create a roadmap to address gaps to realization across their enterprise, such as holistic offerings, campaigns and services. Now they have been in a position to quickly pivot the order in which they address these gaps based on shifts in customer and business needs.

With an enterprise-wide North Star set and an initial roadmap to get there, consider where you might be able to fast track “quick wins” that can significantly improve the experience for your customer within the next 1-2 months. For example, given most consumers are following quarantine guidelines and staying home, many auto insurance providers are crediting accounts based upon usage information and to strengthen relationships during trying times. Rapidly identify these “quick win” areas through a  prioritization grid activity with a cross-functional set of decision-makers, prioritizing the activities with greatest impact to the customer and by feasibility of bringing to market within 60 days.

Despite the current atmosphere of uncertainty, avoid the instinct to detour from your long-term North Star strategy. Rather, accelerate critical workstreams to quickly get prototype to market that drive tangible value to customers quickly, and refine on an ongoing basis per their feedback.

Avoid one-size-fits-all mass-market services and promotions

Every individual is experiencing the impact of the current pandemic in a unique way. Companies should be approaching their customers from a place of empathy – which means different things for different people. Ensure any messaging reinforces your organization’s status as a relevant and trusted source of information, products and services. A middle-income parent of two living in a small New York City apartment and a high-income single adult enjoying more time at home versus traveling, will react very differently to promotions for an at-home spa experience to fill new-found free time.

Revisit your promotion and engagement activities executed over the past six months and consider ways to optimize them quickly based on new consumer behavior patterns. Consider ways to adjust segmentation of your target population, pilot refined engagement strategies, and ultimately gather learnings to inform your longer-term enterprise-wide personalization strategy.

Read this new report IBM commissioned with Forrester to adopt a best-in-class personalization strategy.

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