News & Views

Opinion / Personalisation’s Promised Land

by Contagious Contributor
Jason Holley, senior strategist at Critical Mass, believes that instead of giving a ‘nod’ to personalisation, we should go for a bear hug



We’ve all been there. You are sitting in a meeting and a client says, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we could present a tailored cross-sell offer to each of our customer segments on the homepage? You know, really personalise it?’

Everyone nods in agreement. It makes sense. Salespeople get excited by the possibility of meeting their aggressive sales targets. Marketers imagine tightening the grip they have on their customers by selling across multiple product lines. Tech says they can target the offer to a particular segment. Perhaps at this point, talk turns to how success will be measured and the possibilities of A/B testing various offers.

The overall tone of the room is a feeling of satisfaction that the company will be implementing a ‘personalised’ experience.

Who in the room, though, is asking whether the customer will be satisfied?

Targeted offers are just a ‘nod’ to personalisation

Personalisation is about more than just tailoring marketing messages in order to sell more stuff. That’s a typical business-first perspective that results in short term value. As CX pros, we need to approach personalisation from the customer’s perspective. Our job is to help them get done what they want to get done – and done in the way they want to do it. A truly personalised experience demonstrates empathy – less like the creepy result of data mining and more like a “bear hug” from an understanding and trusted friend. 

So, where is the real potential for personalisation?

Think about the last time you upgraded your cell phone. What caused you to consider upgrading in the first place? Perhaps your phone was getting sluggish. It wasn’t broken, chipped, or cracked, and it was as feature-rich as you needed. But the last few times you updated the software you noticed a decline in speed that became frustrating.

What did you do next? Did you take it to a store to see if it was a software glitch that they could fix? Did you update your status on Facebook venting to your friends and asking for their advice? Did you turn to Google to troubleshoot the problem on your own? As your frustration grew, perhaps you started to browse phones and plans or access your mobile provider’s app to see if you could get an upgrade and what it would cost.

Did you do some of these things from your phone? Others from your tablet or laptop? And when and where did you do them?

At some point, all of these small moments added up. They helped you to make a decision and accomplish the “job” you wanted to get done: To have a faster cell phone.

But how well did the existing digital experiences keep up with your journey? As you jumped from activity to activity, did each step in your experience recognise the cumulative and evolving context across these actions? Did it serve up content that accurately predicted just what you needed next? Or were you left to manage this inventory of information, process it internally, and decide what you would do next on your own?

This is where UX can help

Right now, too many brands are asking their customers to bridge experience gaps. ‘Bear with us, and please muddle through this digital experience – we apologise for any inconvenience.’ That’s not the customer’s job. It’s yours. Especially if you work in UX. If you’re part of a UX design team with responsibility for digital platforms, you have the power to impact your customer’s journey for the better. 

For personalisation to add value, we have to meet customers with the right content, at the right time, in the right place. Sounds easy. Until you start to unpack what it’ll take to deliver on such a mission.

Even Amazon, who is often referenced for its exemplary, personalised UX, repeatedly does things like re-target customers with baby toys, soothers and onesies because they once bought a diaper bag for a friend. Amazon lacks the full context in which the customer made the purchase. To customers, it becomes painfully clear that Amazon doesn’t really know them.

But imagine if Amazon identified it as a potential annual purchase and then sent a timely birthday email reminder on the anniversary – complete with a recommended gift based on age, sex and what others have bought and rated highly. Amazon could even pre-populate the delivery address of where you sent last year’s gift, removing one more thing you need to do.

One-click and done. That is a contextually-driven user experience. Personal, meaningful, easy.

Where to start

Ask yourself: what are you ready for? I don’t recommend putting your hopes into a slick vision of machine-learning-based personalisation on day one. It takes enormous amounts of investment, technical know-how, and organisational wherewithal to get to the personalisation promised land. You can get there, but be prepared to crawl before you run. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Break down internal silos and identify a cross-discipline team who can take responsibility for your personalisation efforts from strategy to implementation
  2. Integrate disparate data sources for a single view of your customer at any moment in time
  3. Evaluate your CMS to ensure it’s flexible enough to handle dynamic content
  4. Evolve design systems to be more modular and component-based
  5. Model your customer’s most important needs from a content and experience flow standpoint
  6. Identify the moments that matter and the context that surrounds them; then use personalisation as a tool to improve them.

Final thoughts

We should all strive to create meaningfully personalised experiences that go far beyond targeted offers. These experiences need to identify and elevate the moments that matter through thoughtful personalisation.

Like a true friend, make your customers’ lives easier. Surprise them, delight them, and don’t be afraid to give them a bear hug. They may just hug you back.