Timothy Leonard, provocation director at Elmwood, on why most personalisation attempts today fall short of the mark; what true personalisation should mean; and how brands should approach it to achieve the best results.
Here at Elmwood we do strategic brand design. We know that great creativity is born from deep understanding and is based not only on hard science and data but also that all-important emotional dimension.
We know, too, that demand is growing for more personalised marketing, amongst brand owners and consumers alike.
Yet the consensus is that the answer lies in data – accessing more of it, unlocking more meaningful insights from it then turning them into meaningful actions.
This is only true to a certain extent.
Just as important – if not more important – is being human. In fact, being human is what makes the difference between tokenistic personalisation and true personalisation.
What is tokenistic personalisation?
Tokenistic personalisation, sadly, is the significant proportion of today’s personalisation. All too often, it’s simply a mechanistic goal to ensure relevance.
Consumers know that it’s not just having your name pre-printed or woven into some digital comms. Often you feel like you’ve been placed into a formulated category or ‘bucket’ for other like-minded consumers. These attempts at ‘personalisation’ lack relevance to the real you, they feel cold and machine driven. True hyper-personalisation is about contextual relevance and this involves delivering meaningful interactions with consumers, identifying moments that matter and creating experiences accordingly.
Let’s face it: Right now, AI’s actually pretty dumb. You can’t have a natural
conversation with it. There’s that whole classic, “People who have bought this, like that” but the more we tell the algorithms and the AI, the more they understand, and the smarter we will get at developing them. In turn personalisation will become less scary, and more human.
How does personalisation become meaningful?
True personalisation is meaningful and valuable because it is underpinned by empathy, contextual awareness and data to enable marketing that is personal and allows the consumer to be an individual. The next level of this hyper-personalisation is the ability to anticipate the intent of somebody at a given time and place. And then, as a brand, it’s about how you wrap around that moment: make no mistake, interactions with brands tend to be driven by a particular intent at a moment in time, which is unlikely to be gleaned by demographic data, age, gender or even past interactions. It is so much more complex than including someone’s name in an email or on a piece of direct mail.
What’s more, there is no doubt that effective personalisation will be a prime driver of marketing success within a few short years, with advances in technology, data and analytics allowing for more human experiences across moments and channels. Increasingly digitised physical spaces; machine learning which can respond to more subtle, often emotional cues; and an increase in joined up ecosystems both in and out of the home are going to help enormously in the battle for true personalisation.
But we must not lose sight of the fact that what the best experiences have in common is that they go beyond just clever use of data. They appeal to the emotions and frequently tap into the brand’s very reason for being.
True personalisation also recognises that people aren’t static, fixed points of data. We change, our attitudes change, and brands must demonstrate empathy and understanding of this fact through the experiences they offer. We change throughout the day, the year, our lives and we are different people online, too, as we move through channels.
Where does design fit into all this?
All brand experiences need to be designed. Whether it’s the crap holding music, the exit sign, the app, or the logo, making the right choices about design comes down to understanding your audience, and understanding what you’re about. Design is the interface that people have with a brand. It’s about connecting with the audience. You can segment people based on certain lifestyles but everyone is an individual. And in an age of individualism there’s nothing more alluring than being spoken to as an individual and seeing yourself in the mirror, in the product or service. It’s empathy and data that helps us get there.
So, speak to me in the here and now, listen, and be seamless and intuitive, allowing me to express myself as an individual.
To this end, brands need to have an emotional dimension to them. Today there are so many ways to get closer to our audiences, in a real time, contextual way – to recognise tone of voice, even facial expressions. We must be aiming for true, rather than tokenistic, personalisation. Both real world experiences and AI can work to deliver contextual relevance, the former we know intuitively and the latter is catching up quickly.
When both are fully understood and deployed with empathy, only then does it go from personalisation to being personal.