Aleetza Senn
Apr 1, 2015

Getting personal with data: Are you after a one-night stand or a long-term relationship?

True understanding of customers, according to Aleetza Senn of analytics specialist Sparkline, is like the difference between meeting someone on Tinder and taking the time to learn enough about them to form a lasting relationship.

Aleetza Senn
Aleetza Senn

Reading the recent Econsultancy/Adobe Quarterly Digital Trends Briefing, ‘personalization’ stands out as the new ‘must’ for marketers as a means of ensuring campaigns are better targeted, effective, engaging and therefore have a greater chance of leading to a sale.

Thirty per cent of respondents cited ‘Targeting & Personalisation’ as the highest ‘digital-related priority area’ for marketing in 2015 and beyond. But what’s less clear is how marketers plan to achieve this. Trying to gain real insight into your customers and therefore personalise your approach to them without the right insights or tools is akin to turning to Tinder to find a meaningful relationship. If you're lucky, you might get a great one night stand, but it's unlikely your encounter will lead to a successful marriage.  

Personalization, like all marketing must-haves (‘mobile optimisation’, ‘social media engagement’ etc, etc) can only be successful when all the pieces of the customer puzzle are in place. And many companies start at the wrong point. It’s very common to experience a panic-driven (or Board-driven) need to ‘develop a strategy’ as a first step in helping achieve personalisation (indeed, 42 per cent of respondents in this survey cited ‘strategy’ as the priority building block for developing an amazing customer experience). But you can’t run before you can walk. How can you develop a relevant strategy if you don't know anything about your customers to begin with? You need to understand what data you have, how people engage with you, the barriers to understanding them, how to segment them, and so on, in order to then build a strategy for creating experiences that will be useful and appreciated. To be able to understand your customers properly, you need data analytics and testing tools. Yet only 11 per cent and 10 per cent of respondents cited technology and data, respectively, as key means of enabling them to develop great customer experiences.

And here lies another challenge. Only 30 per cent of companies cited in the survey think they have the infrastructure and capability to track and interpret data. So, for example, it is hard to see how businesses can develop personalised web experiences and content optimised to preference except through potentially re-marketing or ad servers. You need to know what customers want through analytics before you can really know what to offer or create for them. Perhaps the biggest contradiction of all is the fact that to create personalisation you need to know your customers, yet the majority of companies still measure clicks, clickthrough rates and bounce rates as core digital metrics. How can an adherence to this measurement ever evolve into full blown personalised digital experiences?

A cosy bedfellow of personalisation is developing an awesome customer experience, also deemed as a priority amongst today’s marketers. But ‘customer experience’ means different things to different people. Forty-four per cent state that it will be customer experience which will give them the competitive edge over the next five years, yet only 7 per cent cite mobile and convenience as a means of driving them forward. But surely mobile and convenience are actually part of a great customer experience? Just because you create a 'fun' experience doesn't mean potential customers become actual customers.

The world moves so fast, that answering fundamental challenges of wants, needs, and yes, convenience is what will win you customers. But why is mobile so far down the list? Do businesses really feel they have engaged appropriately on mobile and are fully catering to their customers’ needs through this medium? Our experience is that many companies still don’t truly address the needs of their customers through mobile-based engagements, apps and conversions.

For data-driven cultures to succeed, businesses have to adopt a collaborative and fail-fast culture. It’s encouraging to see some businesses breaking down silos and adopting a ‘test and learn’ approach to drive innovation and change, but this is still more often the exception than the norm, particularly in companies which have grown rapidly or through acquisition.

Rather than trying to do too much at once, take baby steps. Look at incremental changes and testing, not complete overhauls, and use digital tools to layer on pieces of the puzzle necessary to put faces to customers. Just because the digital world appears to move super-fast doesn’t mean a company can or should. Like any successful relationship, taking the time to get to know your other half before declaring undying love is going to be what sees you potentially spending the next 20 years together instead of heading for the divorce courts.

Aleetza Senn is managing partner & co-founder of Sparkline

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