face in the crowd

Call it the customer engagement paradox: marketers turn daily to expensive, complex, digital technologies in an effort to achieve the close, personal customer relationships of mom-and-pop stores. Providing an individualized experience to each and every consumer has become an incredibly complex challenge — and technology is both the problem and the solution.

Today’s digital consumers are hard to keep up with, as they tend to bounce around from channel to channel quickly, easily and frequently. These folks also have higher expectations than ever when it comes to brand experiences. They expect companies to meet them where they are, know their preferences and, ideally, predict their next move — all without being too intrusive. 

With a seemingly endless number of brands vying for consumers’ attention, companies that do not meet the mark when it comes to individualizing experiences will be left in the dust.

Envision the Finish Line

Before taking on the challenge of developing the best possible marketing to fit a superlative customer experience, it is important to establish the end goal. The key here is to distinguish between personalization and individualization.

Many marketers today are still hung up on personalization, which entails delivering the right message at the right place and time. The problem with this approach is that it looks at the interaction from the marketer’s point of view and is limited to the message, rather than the experience as a whole.

Instead, marketers should be striving to achieve individualization. Individualization is the ability to recognize an individual, establish his or her intent, and create a unique interaction that is tailored to that person’s customer journey in context. Individualized marketing is dynamic, continuous and real-time. Ultimately, marketers that achieve individualization will see their success reflected in their bottom lines: Good customer experience drives revenue by increasing customer loyalty.

Get Ready to RACE

Individualization may seem like a daunting task, especially for companies with massive amounts of customers. However, mastering four critical capabilities and deploying them together will put any brand on the road to individualization:

  • Recognition — Identifying an individual across channels and matching him to any information about him that exists from past interactions or other systems. This applies to both individuals who can be specifically identified and those who are anonymous, at least initially
  • Analysis — Evaluating each individual to determine his or her intent. This should be based on all known and inferred insights, historical data and current actions
  • Contextualization — Determining which aspects of the customer’s experience need to be tailored to best suit the individual’s needs. This requires adjusting content, presentation and functionality in real-time and as a predictive decision to create the best possible experience for each person
  • Engagement — This is the delivery of each interaction to the user in the appropriate context, which includes timing, channel, content and other indicators provided by the consumer

Check Your Engines

To successfully execute these capabilities, a company’s processes, data and technology must all be in top form. Standards should be in place across the organization for how to identify individuals across the customer lifecycle and deliver an individualized experience — and the role different channels have in doing this.

The flow of customer data between channels needs to be optimized to deliver a superior experience from one click/swipe to the next. Owners of all touchpoints — e.g., web, advertising, email — must ensure that the technology they use can be easily connected to the next touchpoint in the customer journey. By connecting one technology silo to the next, they can ensure customers have a consistent experience across all of a brand’s touchpoints.

The data from all these touchpoints makes up the customer profile, which is the most important piece of successful individualization. Building a highly effective customer profile is a complex task with many moving parts. While no two customer profiles will ever be the same, all profiles should have five traits in common. They must:

  1. Collect data tied to the individual, rather than zooming out to a segment level.
  2. Pull data from all channels and make this available to all other channels and systems.
  3. Serve as a link between all marketing tech solutions in use.
  4. Persist outside of a cookie or system.
  5. Exist for both anonymous and known individuals.

Off to the RACEs!

Individualization is a long-term commitment, but to get started right away, begin with an audit of your profiles. Take a careful look at all the profiles currently storing customer data, and determine if they are pulling a complete picture. Then, sit down and outline all the different versions of your customers’ lifecycles. This will help to create a common starting point for organizing information and content.

Finally, look at the channels that are most often paired together and evaluate why they go together and whether a user’s actions in one influences the other. Starting with pairs will help you to scale up to eventually become as close to touchpoint agnostic as possible.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  james_drury