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Barclaycard's Nina Bibby on real insight and personalisation

Barclaycard's global chief marketing officer believes brands must first understand their customers as individuals before they can claim to deliver truly personalised services.

Barclaycard's Nina Bibby on real insight and personalisation

Over the past few weeks, I have spent quite a few hours focusing on leadership, both as part of the well-publicised transformation at Barclays being led by our group chief executive, Antony Jenkins, and as part of ongoing team-development exercises. A word that keeps coming up is "authenticity", not just as a leadership trait, but as a core need of all employees. The truth is, given the amount of time we spend at work, not being able to be oneself is, at best, exhausting and demotivating. To benefit from the diversity and experience of my team, I want them to bring their whole selves to work and need to encourage that as much as possible. This starts with me getting to know them as individuals and building those relationships.

It is not so different with customers, really. Their need for any product or service is just one small part of their whole self, and understanding them as individuals is essential if we are to motivate them to engage with what we are marketing.

This is particularly relevant for us at the moment. We spent months gearing up for the 9 May launch of the new service from Barclaycard, Bespoke Offers. The core-value proposition is about allowing consumers to get offers on the things they want, when they want them, tapping into two core trends: value and personalisation.

As we developed the Bespoke Offers proposition and marketing campaign, we reflected long and hard on the notion of personalisation and what it really means for the individual, and for us as a company trying to meet the needs of that individual. In the world of products, personalisation is equated with mass-customisation. You can specify the exact combination of cut, colour and fit in a pair of jeans or the performance, colour and fit in some trainers, and 3D printing - the subject of much buzz lately - is set to take this degree of customisation to a whole new level.

I believe personalisation is rooted in a true understanding of the customer as an individual, and about being genuinely demand-led and less about multiple options.

But I've been wondering whether this is actually missing the point. I believe personalisation is rooted in a true understanding of the customer as an individual, and about being genuinely demand-led and less about multiple options. Think, for example, about the vast array of choices offered in a typical upscale coffee shop these days - size, coffee bean, serve, flavour, type of milk. Real personalisation, in this context, is being served my preferred choice without having to ask.

In a way, personalising service is characteristic of smaller businesses, which tend to know their customers well. The challenge for bigger organisations is how to scale this feeling of "small and intimate" so you can deliver it to thousands of customers across geographies and business units.

Technology is a huge enabler to this, but it needs to be infused with the human touch - the future of personalised service is a benevolent combination of the two.

So where does this all lead? It takes us back to the central element of any successful marketing programme: real insight into the customer, their needs and wants.

It is tempting to believe that the ongoing proliferation of channels and technologies to reach the customer is always a good thing. Rather than volume, it is relevance to me and, by extension, my family, that is the real prize.