Providing a personal experience for your customers is nothing new. I have fond memories of going to the local newsagent when I was younger. The shopkeeper knew which newspaper my parents ordered and which football stickers I was collecting. As a customer, this deep personal knowledge develops the feeling of trust, a critical part of any brand engagement.

As we move into a digital world, engagement with our audience is changing. The customer journey is evolving and becoming hugely complex. Their first experience may be on social media, in-store or via traditional print advertising. Keeping track of these touchpoints and delivering the right message at the right time is not easy.

The value of the brand experience is changing too, with a majority (68%) of consumers stating they are willing to try a new app, website or service if it delivers some time-saving value. The opportunity to cultivate loyalty is shrinking and competition is fierce. Getting to know your customers, advocates, and promoters has never been more important. The digital savvy consumer has big expectations, and it is technology which is empowering brands to tell a compelling story. This is the promise of personalisation.

The Importance Of Data

The reason measuring all the customer touch-points has become important is scale. Developing an accurate view of the customer is only possible by analysing their behaviour across the many different channels. The term “big data” has become somewhat overused, perhaps to hide a lack of understanding or easily pigeonhole a potentially overwhelming subject. I have to admit I find “data analytics” to be more descriptive. It is not how much data you have, but what you do with it that counts.

The first and arguably most important task for any brand or business is to get hold of the information. Even if you are just embarking on a customer experience program, data capture is the critical step. The data you collect now will enable you to build customer behaviour models in the future. Even if you do not have a complete digital strategy, start by storing and collecting everything you can.

As consumers, we are generally more willing to share our personal data, if advertisements or marketing material is more relevant. The millennial generation has grown up understanding this trade off. We are entering the realm of trust. If you are sensible and transparent about what you do with personal information, and there is a clear benefit, both parties can be satisfied.

Information Is Power

The question many people try to answer is: “What can I do with the data that I have?” That is probably the wrong place to start. You must begin with a compelling business problem; then you can build a model to help you solve it. It is almost impossible to start with the answer and work backwards. Again, this is nothing new in business. The difference today is that you test a hypothesis and make the best decision. In the past, the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) was gospel and was rarely challenged. The days of hearing “well, we’ve always done it that way” or “we know what our customers want better than they do” are over (or at least, they are on the way out).

Testing a theory, looking at historic trends and being able to make predictions are the mantras of today’s most successful companies. There are many situations in which the most obvious answer does not lead to the most effective solution. A great example of this is the way Amazon stocks its distribution centres. All the products are spread across the warehouse at random. The system knows where everything is located and when a customer order is picked from the shelves, the most efficient route is calculated. Not only does this mean journey times for the workers are minimised, but also their routes are varied and less monotonous. Each packing run is unique and personalised.

I Have The Data, Now What?

Once you have solved the problem of collecting your customer data, the real challenge is knowing what to do with it. Delivering usable business insights and analysis has given rise the role of the data scientist. Typically, this is someone with a mathematics, computer science or statistics background, but with the ability to interpret results and present the outcome in a meaningful way. This specialist training does not come cheap, and with a rapidly widening skills gap, hiring for these roles is a challenge.

The good news is there are specialist partners you can work with to help you on the way. These are organisations which deliver data consulting as a service. They will enable you to make the best use of the data you have collected and ensure that you do not get lost in the world of complex tools or visualisation software platforms. By taking a cross-industry approach to problem solving, they will often deliver efficiency in an unexpected but highly beneficial area of your business.

Keep It All Relevant

Building a personalised customer engagement strategy is not a trivial undertaking. While it might not be relevant to your brand today, in the future it certainly will be. Like many aspects of digital transformation, it is not a siloed undertaking by the marketing department, but rather something which can impact many departments and job functions. Some people are predicting a future where robots and algorithms will make the majority of decisions. Human involvement will be minimal and up to one-third of today’s job roles may become obsolete.

No matter where you are along the journey to personalisation, the most important thing is that you don’t lose sight of the customer. Digital transformation is about putting the experience first and building engagement models focussed on delivering real customer outcomes. I always think you should put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Too many companies focus on a business benefit or aim to deliver top line revenue. The most successful products and services are those which address a customer need.