At our recent breakfast event, it was clear that whilst everyone aspires to the promised land of true personalisation and most recognise the multiple benefits of an effective programme, many brands are still struggling to achieve their goals or deliver against their ambitions.
Neil Collard, Great State’s managing director, introduced the seminar with a comprehensive business case for personalisation to transition from ‘talking’ to ‘doing’. There is understandably a huge cross-sector appetite for brands to gain a more intimate relationship with customers. Personalisation is just one way of achieving that and it’s gaining more traction. It’s now easier to pool data from multiple sources, collect and store richer volumes of data, process and interpret it and deliver across a multitude of channels such as voice and EPOS platforms. However, it’s something that remains a business-wide challenge for many digital leaders.
Collard remarked on the results of a Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study in 2017, which claimed that only 15% of organisations are considered personalisation leaders, 20% are only experimenting and the remaining 65% haven’t even started to employ it. The study highlighted too few dedicated personnel, inadequate co-ordination between teams and departments, lack of a clear roadmap and inability to test and learn rapidly, as top organisational barriers to delivering full personalisation.
Nicola Hinds, Director of Strategy at Great State, took to the stage next to share three driving forces that put personalisation in the spotlight:
Consumer expectations are rising – what people expect brands to deliver through their touch points and experiences is growing every day, constantly set and reset by global digital platforms
Competition is fierce - new, cross-sector and fast-moving competitors are encroaching on every brand
Technology is delivering business value not just adding complexity - CMS and personalisation platforms have reached a new level of maturity
The answer to effective personalisation, Hinds explained, is a combination of the right technology and the right partner. With a rising number of different devices, systems and touch points, there is a demonstrable need for a single repository that allows the collection, storage and dissemination of customer data, particularly when you start incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT).
Hinds cited Sitecore as an example of a powerful platform that can deliver against this. All the different devices need to be easy to integrate, she added, and brands also need ready access to individual customer data without heavy back-end development.
Next, we welcomed Charles Bell, Director of Sales Engineering, EMEA at Sitecore to speak to attendees and share insight into effective strategies. Charles focused his attentions on the challenge of big data and ways to make it work better. Personalisation, he explained, is really just another term for context marketing – helping you to communicate with your customers at the right moment, time and place, with the right message or offer. He raised the common challenge for brands of turning big data into a meaningful asset and advised delegates to map KPIs against data requirements - rigorously and continually - to reduce the data noise.
Charles cited AI as an exciting enabler for improved personalisation, as it adds contextual intelligence that enables you to create an experience database. He explained that AI can help you to identify gaps in customer segmentations by swiftly number crunching assumptions, enabling you to confirm, or otherwise, if your profiling is accurate.
But CRM alone, he warned, can only tell you what your customer did before, not what they are doing now. AI helps you keep pace with their behavioural change to predict what they will want next. Omnichannel automation, when combined with this knowledge, enables you not only to understand the right context to use, but also the right channel through which to deliver it. With machine learning you are able to define the right user journeys to connect with customers, but you can’t do it all at once - and with the right partner, he advised, you can define the stages to get you there quicker.
So, enough of the talking. We finished with an exercise to give attendees a flavour of how Great State’s personalisation programme works across these seven areas:
1. Consumer insight and expectations
2. Customer data
3. Business objectives and strategy
4. Business case and priority
5. Personalisation strategy and progress
6. Staff and processes
In groups, delegates worked together to assess the barriers they are collectively facing and discuss potential remedies to help them improve their personalisation roadmaps going forwards.
Across the board, attendees confessed to a range of similar challenges. Some said they lacked a ‘North Star’ vision of what personalisation could do for the organisation or, if they did have such a vision, they were unable to articulate it effectively to senior decision makers internally. Others said they found personalisation to be silo’d into the web team or it was just seen as a tool to increase conversion.
Another theme which came to light was the additional challenge around legacy technology and a common misunderstanding that you need a single customer view plus all systems to be fully connected to begin. Overall brands agreed that the complexity of the technology, a lack of due process and appropriate resource, plus a lack of stakeholder understanding were the biggest barriers they faced.
If you’re facing similar challenges, Great State runs an iterative personalisation programme which might help. Using this framework, we’ve already helped clients identify opportunities, equipped them to implement personalisation and enabled them to evolve to keep pace with technological change. The programme begins with a 2-3 week personalisation audit and strategy, resulting in an effectiveness benchmarking score and a clear roadmap for developing and evolving personalisation.