Marketers have little consensus about what personalization means or how to achieve it.

That's the conclusion of Deloitte's fourth study of how digital experiences are shaping customers' expectations and shopping behavior.

The report found shoppers are increasingly willing to share personal data, such as location and personal details, because they understand that doing so can lead to an improved online experience. It also suggests retailers have been "painfully slow" to migrate from a campaign mindset, where everything is planned around sales events, to one that truly focuses on the customer.

I couldn't agree more.

But wait. The report also warns:

  • Retailers should embrace the native capabilities of their digital touchpoints and integrate with platforms where their customers are already interacting at scale rather than trying to build such platforms themselves.

More specifically, Deloitte suggests it's a "fallacy" to believe "any single retailer, which only interacts with a customer six to eight times a year (in a mostly transactional manner), can gather enough information to provide a meaningfully personalized experience."

Retailers Have Plenty of Data

This is a head-scratcher, to put it mildly.

The Deloitte report seems to be referring only to interactions through a retailer's web site. But that's just one of the many channels that smart marketers are using to interact with their customers on a far more frequent basis.

Many retailers send customer email once a week or once a day. Push notifications and in-app messages regularly ring out on customers' phones, and brands are constantly engaging on social media.

That sounds like six to eight interactions a month at a minimum — not per year — to me.

Those interactions provide plenty of data from which retailers can build "meaningful personalization."

Some Retailers Get It Right

Yes, in some organizations, all this information remains siloed, robbing marketers of the information they need to personalize based on both behavior, preferences and intent.

But I also see many innovative retailers that are breaking down silos, integrating their data, and finding they've got plenty with which to create a better, more personalized, customer experience by using data from every channel to improve the experience on any individual channel.

Fulfilling the Potential of Personalization

It's not clear exactly what Deloitte means by "meaningfully personalize."

It's a good bet that most marketers aren't sure, either.

There is so much noise and confusion about personalization that I can hardly blame marketers for being confused and consultants for being imprecise.

To me, meaningful personalization means using information gleaned from multiple channels — in-store, email, online, mobile — to provide an integrated cross-channel experience that reflects an individual customer's interests and behaviors.

Incorporating Context Into Personalization

When it comes to personalization, context matters. If a customer is new to a brand, a savvy retailer is going to start by personalizing based on acquisition source by leveraging the data that they have on that individual and also analyzing the behavior and interests of other customers acquired through that same source.

How does this plays out in terms of personalization? If the consumer came to the brand, say, by searching for winter boots, he’ll see website content featuring winter boots as well as recommendations for products that customers who came through similar search terms actually went on to purchase.

Once that customer has established multiple engagements with the brand, marketers will use the full omnichannel dataset to personalize based on deeper insights from historic behaviors, product interests and even predicted behaviors.

It's entirely possible for retailers to "meaningfully personalize," on their own platforms — and I can tell you that from experience. Retailers are increasing revenue from email while reducing customer churn and boosting repeat purchase rates.

Clearly, this is meaningful personalization — to customers, to marketers, and to the bottom line.

Title image by Angello Lopez