For most marketers, especially those in the retail sector, Marketing Personalisation (one-to-one) is a pretty lofty goal, and for others it may seem like an impossible dream. The good news is, you can start on your journey to better Personalisation today. Right now, in fact!

Put your customer at the heart of everything you’re doing; be useful to them and you can’t go wrong. But that’s just the crux of it all. Let’s go a little deeper into why marketing personalisation is so intrinsic to success, and what the heck you can do to get it right.

Why Personalisation?

For frequent readers of our content, you’ll know that we believe Usefulness, Personalisation and Return on Attention are inexorable elements of a successful, future-proof marketing strategy.

And let’s face it, marketing personalisation isn’t a new concept. It’s been the cornerstone of marketing for many years and sits in marketing strategy alongside segmentation, targeting and positioning (STP). Remember one-to-all, one-to-many and one-to-one, undifferentiated, differentiated and personalised marketing in those dusty old marketing textbooks?

Essentially, we like to feel special and we want our lives to be easier. We’re going to think well of anyone who manages to do that for us, especially in our hurried, harried lives.

There’s just been a lot more noise about it of late because the way we can do it has evolved and made it more of a possibility for larger companies to achieve personalisation by intelligently using technology and data.

High profile companies like Amazon, Apple and Netflix are held up as the exemplars of what we should all be doing.

At the back end of last year, personalisation was the word on everyone’s lips. But if you ask us, people were a little late to the party.

Now, it’s calmed down again. Why? Possibly because we’ve all looked into what it involves – a shed load of data, customer insight and expensive technology – and it’s overwhelmed us.

Funnily enough, personalisation and marketing data correlate very well in Google Trend data:

Personalisation 1

Source: Google Trends, 2016

Reflecting this, Econsultancy’s 2016 Digital Trends (January 2016) report highlighted that the opportunities marketers are most excited by are ‘optimising the customer experience’, ‘creating compelling content for digital experiences’ and ‘data-driven marketing that focuses on the individual’. All great for moving towards personalisation.

However, the report also found that the major barriers are around data and resources to collect, analyse and use it to figure out what customers want and how to give them it using our marketing mixes.

When and why did it all become so flippin’ complicated?!

Like many things in marketing, it’s partly that pesky little thing called the digital age that’s made our jobs as marketers more challenging – but arguably more interesting.

The internet has opened up companies to worldwide audiences and the digital transformation and fragmentation of channels has made personalisation harder. Once, it was enough to go to your local shop, tell the sales assistant what you wanted and be brought a few options to choose from. The sales assistant might even have given you their opinion.

The shop would have probably advertised in the local newspaper and with some posters around the area. Now with worldwide audiences who can be online, offline, and even both at the same time – all the while, generating data – its feeling like an onerous task to make sense of it all.

What Personalisation ISN’T

Another thing that’s confusing people is that the term ‘personalisation’ has a couple of meanings in relation to marketing:

Personalisation 2


There’s a subtle but important distinction to be made between these two. The first definition is led by the company, altering elements of its marketing mix to meet its customer’s requirements. The second is a marking sought out or initiated by the customer that identifies the product as being theirs.

So, before you start worrying about whether you should begin changing all your packaging to emblazon it with first names, like Coca Cola, Nutella and Marmite, hold your horses!

What these companies did was type 1.1 of marketing personalisation. They didn’t change their product, price, distribution channels or promotional mix in response to the requirements of their individual customer. They made it identifiable.

Being useful to your customer:

I’d argue that the first definition of personalisation is what we want to be striving for as marketers. But, in order to alter elements of our marketing mix to meet our customers’ requirements, we first need to know who our customers are and what they want at different points of their buying journey.

And that’s the real quandary, isn’t it?

Many companies don’t know, when they’re really honest with themselves. It’s our perennial challenge.

This article isn’t the place to go into the nuts and bolts of how to understand your customer better. For now, let me say that wherever you are in your company with this process, you can start to improve today. Simply shifting your focus and asking yourself questions about your customer and what you can alter to better fit their needs in the marketing campaign you’re working on is the first step. Customer personalisation is an ethos, not just an activity.

Let’s look at an example. Think about what makes you smile with companies. Maybe a restaurant you frequent knows the bottle of wine you like and the waiter asks you if you’d like this or something else instead of simply handing you the wine menu.

It is this recognition that you are not a stranger to the business and that you’ve already shown a preference that is meaningful. Combine this with the waiter offering you the wine you prefer at the right time as you settle at your table and it will make you feel special, right?

Now consider the flipside; you walk into a restaurant you’ve visited loads of times and are treated like a stranger. No acknowledgement from the waiter that they have served you many times before. They take you to your seat and ask if you’d like to see the wine menu. Doesn’t feel so special, does it?

So, we might say that personalisation looks like this:


Personalisation 3

Is this personalisation, then? And does it really matter, so long as the customer feels like it is? A thought-provoking article by Graham Jones, a specialist in internet psychology, explored a 2015 study that found it is only the perception of personalisation that matters to us.

In my example above, the restaurant hasn’t gone out of their way to research and find out what wines you like, what price you want to pay and when you might visit the restaurant just so they can get a bottle in especially for you. If they did, you’d probably find it a bit over the top and creepy. A recent report by Experian suggests you would, especially if they did this on your first visit!

However, your perception is that they’ve offered you a personalised experience because they’ve taken the trouble to learn what you like that they already offer, recognised you when you’ve arrived as an existing customer whose needs they value. They’ve even given you the choice to go for something else, if you’re not up for your ‘usual’ on that particular visit.

Take it easy – Personalisation is a journey

For larger businesses and our online customer, it’s not easy to achieve this perceived level of personalisation without technology and a data strategy.

So if you’re not ready for that yet, take it easy and start your journey with the first stage of personalisation by revisiting or doing some segmentation first and reaffirming or selecting just one target market that you’ll experiment with. This will help you be a bit more personalised (one-to-many differentiation). You can then begin to find out more about this one target market and explore new ways of adapting your marketing mix to their needs.

Email is an easy place to start with Personalisation and can start out simple, from personalising a headline based on name and need, as well as the content you serve to that customer segment. You can then progress right through to sending dynamic offers to your customer based on their location – Experian explains this well.

As your efforts to understand your customer develop, you might want to begin considering what technological tools you could use for your website. As you’ll see though, these tools are still using segmentation as a basis, which is why having a strong STP strategy is so important as the foundation of your marketing efforts. What the technology will help you do is put people into smaller segments and tailor what products you present to your customer based on the behaviour they demonstrate.

Don’t assume you know your customer better than they do!

The fun starts with personalisation when context comes in to muddy the waters. Have you and your partner or housemate got totally different movie tastes on Netflix? Do you buy gifts on Amazon for other people? Or using our example from earlier, might you want some champagne instead of wine, because it’s your birthday?

Here we start to see why personalisation and the model presented above can be skewed by the context in which the product or service is to be consumed – and who by. Just because I buy a kids’ cereal one week because I have young relatives visiting doesn’t mean I want vouchers for this cereal again. And we’ve all been stalked by remarketing ads for something we’ve already bought or decided against, haven’t we?

How about when you browse on a poorly designed mobile website and it won’t let you switch over to their desktop site, or change your location? It’s totally maddening!

The clever technologists haven’t figured this one out, yet. I’m sure they will, but in the meantime, the best thing you can do is make it really easy for your customer to say ‘no, thanks – I want something different’.

Like the waiter in our example – you can show your customer you’ve considered what they might like, but that you’re not being pushy, if their context means that actually, this time they want something different.

Where next for Personalisation?

As we’ve seen, personalisation isn’t a new thing; it’s just evolving with technology’s impact on our customers. What the big technology driven companies can do to personalise is impressive and they’ll continue to light the way. However, as marketers in smaller companies who don’t always have access to the budgets and technologies that they do, we shouldn’t become down-hearted.

A customer doesn’t care if you’ve actually personalised; they just want to feel “yes they get me and they’ve recognised my need, and allow me to choose another option easily if they’ve got it wrong or because of context, I don’t want my usual.”

Strong segmentation, thinking through your customers’ needs at different parts of their buying journey and altering parts of your marketing mix to appeal will go a long way to doing this.

Time to get your planning head on…

If you’re anything like us lot here at Silverbean, you’ll love a good plan! So I’ve created a workbook that you can use to assess where you’re at with personalisation now, where you want to go and what you’ll need to get there.  You’re so welcome!