2014-19-November-generations-holding-hands.jpg

Whether they're buying car insurance or professional-grade skis, customers go through cycles of exploring, researching and purchasing. The most successful companies plot the purchasing cycle for every individual customer and tailor their messaging accordingly.

This degree of customized marketing requires effort, notably talking with customers to understand their wants, needs and preferences.

But in an increasingly digital world, brands rarely, if ever, interact with their customers face-to-face. Instead, companies must collect, connect and action the information they can gather about consumers from their online brand interactions to make the experience more personal and, ultimately, more profitable.

Make it Personal

There are an overwhelming number of technologies that marketers can select to help deliver on the promise of personalization. (Check out Scott Brinker’s marketing technology landscape supergraphic for a pretty scary visualization.) Where to start? Here are five ways to enhance personalized marketing and build lasting customer loyalty.

1. Have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve

If you want to build customers for life, use every resource at your disposal to provide the best service possible to every customer. Regardless of the kind of business, exceptional customer service starts with a brand doing what it takes to make their customers feel appreciated and valued — and negate any reason for those customers to go elsewhere.

2. Gather data about your customers in a single place

To make the most of your customer data and save resources on analysis of disparate data silos, create a system that collects and connects all that data it in one place, in real time. Rather than trying to manually bridge data from websites, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, social media networks, mobile sites and email, invest in a single experience database to unify all information about customers and prospects.

3. Create micro-segments

Once you have actionable implicit and explicit data from each consumer, you can create sophisticated segments and personalized experiences. When you know your customer on a personal level you can have relevant conversations and provide useful content that drives sales and earns brand loyalty.

4. Determine what to communicate

Marketing automation is pointless unless you know exactly what message you want to send. Luckily, today’s marketers have access to vast amounts of data about how consumers interact with brands, use devices and trust the recommendations of people in their social networks. Use this information to inform your communications. Develop a personalized view of each consumer. Target customers based on their demonstrated preferences and craft relevant messages.

5. Test things to optimize results

If companies can find a quick way of testing innovations around personalized experiences for every consumer, they will differentiate against their competitors. Big companies need to do this even more rigorously because they’re stuck with this technology baggage. Figure out places where that innovation can happen through experiments and pilot sites. The technology exists -- now the opportunity is to impress and excite your customer.

Real Life Examples

Take Starbucks. The company's mobile app is great for finding locations and filling up your Starbucks card. However, wouldn’t it be even better if a customer could walk up to the barista in an unfamiliar Starbucks store and have her offer his usual order (double shot grande latte) automatically? Beacon technology can allow stores to “see” a customer approaching. When a customer crosses the threshold, the store has the option to act on his usual preferences.

Healthcare provider LEO Pharma is an excellent example of a company that has combined its unique knowledge and resources with technology-driven personalization to create a customized user experience. In 2013 LEO Pharma launched QualityCare, a multichannel support service designed to provide patients with tailored and useful information about their illnesses and treatment options. The patient creates a profile on the website and selects topics of interest, providing information about a specific diagnosis. Once the profile is complete, patients get access to a page with targeted content.

LEO Pharma uses all the information it's gathered about every patient — including the profile, records from the CRM system as well as experiential data about which areas of the website the patients have visited — to provide more personalized customer service. Nurses proactively call patients based on behavioral triggers. The website also displays phone numbers so patients can call a nurse directly when they have a question. LEO Pharma has mastered the tight integration between experiential data and customer service.

Technology can personalize the experience for every individual, where they are, in the moment. The next step is for brands to get on board.