A call to arms for personalisation


Is personalisation all hype? If not, why do so many Customer Experiences still suck?

Recently a fascinating image popped up in my Linkedin feed, showcasing the rapid martech landscape growth – from 150 products in 2011 to about 7,000 to 2018.



In 7 years there has been a 47X increase in the volume of technology available to marketers, and undoubtedly a comparable increase in the sophistication of said technology.

There’s also been a dramatic increase in the amount of mar-tech across categories that can drive customer experience improvements. As well as rapid growth in automation & testing/personalisation, we’ve seen the introduction of new categories like predictive analytics, DMP’s and customer data platforms.

personalisation landscape

To me though, there is a massive disconnect between the growth in the availability of technology that can improve Customer Experiences, and the actual improvements that have been made in the same time period.

The fascinating thing is, it’s not like these products are all smoke and mirrors, or that marketers think they don’t work. In each of the past 3 years, the Econsultancy CRO survey has reported that 94-98% of client side marketers believe website personalisation is a valuable or highly valuable method to improve conversion rates. And evidence abounds that the companies who are doing personalisation well are seeing the ROI and creating a competitive advantage – For example, Mckinsey reports personalisation can drive acquisition cost reductions of up to 50%.
But across the same 3 years that client side marketers have been overwhelmingly saying they believe in personalisation, and that the data has been showing it works, there have only been marginal improvements to the number who are actually doing it – from 22% in 2015 to 25% in 2017.

So what is the reason for this disconnect? Like the old cliché, personalisation is not an easy thing to do – if it were, it wouldn’t be worth doing. In the same econsultancy reports that marketers said they believed in personalisation, 80% of marketers rated it as very difficult or quite difficult to achieve.

Too often, organisations buy into the promise of these technologies and not the reality, going live without a plan in place for how the ROI promise will actually be delivered. Vendor conferences and presales don’t help, presenting case studies which illustrate beautiful and seamless customer experiences. But what is being presented is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The reality hiding beneath the surface is a fundamental shift to how these organisations are doing business. One marketer alone cannot drive these changes.

One very common example is around CRM adoption. It’s very clear that these systems could contain treasure troves of customer context with which to drive personalisation. But the challenge for most organisations isn’t how to integrate a properly maintained CRM with their other systems. For most B2B organisations I speak to though, even adoption of CRM is still a pipe dream – let alone doing anything with it after the fact. These are the sorts of shifts in culture that need to be driven by the C-level down.

As much as personalisation is difficult, it’s necessary.

Today, scandals like the Equifax & Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data breaches are receiving significant increases in media attention. Consumers are increasingly conscious of the way in which their data is being used and misused. In my view, just like workers increasingly ask when the dividend from economic growth will be felt in their living standards, consumers will increasingly ask when the CX dividend will be reflected from the numerous ways in which companies are tracking, measuring and profiling them. There’s ample data out there to support this too – Salesforce have found that 70% of consumers (and 82% of business consumers) say a companies understanding of their individual needs will influence their loyalty.

And while more technology is constantly touted as the solution to delivering remarkable customer experiences, it should actually be reframed as a barrier. Think about the most personalised communication you could have with a company and it’s probably a face to face conversation with a sales person. The more technology that is introduced into the equation, the less context is available about your experience and the less “personalised” it can be. Introduce a phone and your body language is now missing to the sales person. Make it email and your tone of voice is now gone too..

Visit the companies website and in most cases, you’re now interacting with something that was built some years ago. If you’re lucky and the company had some digital maturity when they built it, it would have been based on assumptions about segments of users, maybe with some user interviews and journey mapping too.

In this context, personalisation is not a nice to have activity that makes improvements to an experience already delivering on the needs of your customers. Personalisation is a war of attrition, fighting to adapt technology to identify and respond to the experiences that your customers are having – experiences that technology, lacking empathy and any innate ability to understand a users context, are fundamentally ill equipped to respond to.

So here is a call to arms for personalisation and its power to improve customer experiences. The competitive advantage is still there to be claimed. But will your organisation be a winner, or will it be left behind?