Marketers now have the data and technology they need to understand customer behavior and can get sophisticated with how they target and speak to audiences. But that doesn’t mean personalization is easy – and lots of brands are still trying to get it right.
That’s why Campaign partnered with Publicis Media to host a roundtable discussion, with consumer brand marketers from a number of industries, over breakfast during CES 2020. Campaign US editor Lindsay Stein led a conversation to find out how brands and agencies can make the most of the game-changing opportunities personalization offers. Here are the major observations, thoughts and ideas:
What’s possible with personalization today – and the cautions
There are tons of opportunities for modern personalization and a lot of them are at CES, explained Amy Lanzi, EVP, practice lead, commerce, North America at Publicis Media. Consumers are mandating that they have a better experience and technology can deliver: "Voice technology, for example, allows us to start a more personalized experience without going through a more complicated process. We can listen to what consumers want and predict based on their signals. For brands, it’s about how you can service consumer needs versus selling more products."
Andy Kauffman, SVP, global marketing optimization at Marriott International said that his brand is mining social media to deliver personalized experiences to guests; this helps build relationships with customers: "We have been a direct-to-consumer (DTC) brand for 90 years – DTC isn’t a new trend – it’s all about us having a direct relationship, I don’t want to give them the same experience as our competitors."
GSK's US CMO Amardeep Kahlon explained that a challenge for his brand is standing out in a cluttered market – and wanting unique insights but not to alienate consumers: "Health is everywhere with health companies becoming tech companies and vice versa. The more we can get closer to our consumers, the more unique offerings we can have to personalize solutions. But the question becomes how much data is too much data? And what permission do we need? We don’t want to become obtrusive."
WW's chief brand officer Gail Tifford believes that protecting data is one of the most important things a brand can do.
"I fell into the most beautiful goldmine of data – I know how people are eating, thinking and moving their body etc. It raises the expectation of what we can do for our members but you have to be so careful. People share the most intimate details of their lives with us. We also have a social-media platform Connect with millions of members who constantly share and talk to each other. Our data points are incredible. People ask why we don’t sell our data – we could make millions of dollars from our data but we would ruin the trust with our members," she said.
Jeremy Levine, head of digital & publishing at Live Nation believes companies must get their value-exchange right with customers. "People will give you more information if you show them there is real value. It doesn’t have to be discount, it could be more content or entertainment. The next big thing will be how can companies give more control to consumers and at the same time, build a deeper relationship with them," he said.
What experiences matter most to people?
The conversation moved to looking at what customers actually want when it comes to personalization. McDonalds' global marketing SVP Colin Mitchell suggests that small ideas and product tweaks can make customers very happy.
"It can often be tiny, silly or superficial but still very meaningful. There’s lots of fiddling you could do but it can very quickly screw up the whole model. We tested basic personalization with McFlurry’s in Germany where we did a social media campaign where people could customize the flavors and toppings – a very simple product but huge success.
We’re in the early stages of personalization. You think it has to be deep, structural and meaningful but sometimes it doesn’t."
Tifford agreed that the simple details go a long way: "Something as simple as when you open an app and it says ‘Hi Gail’, that could make someone feel better."
Kauffman believes that the best brands are doing one thing: listening. And this goes a long way for customers. "You stay at one of our hotels, and ask for a drink with almond milk. The next time you visit, the almond milk is already there for you waiting. That's the basics of personalization. It’s not even personalization, it’s just good service," he said.
The brands leading the way – and the ones that are just irritating
Kenny Mitchell, CMO at Snap believes that Spotify are doing a "phenomenal" job: "What they do at the end of year with your personal round up of discoveries throughout that year is something I look forward to. They are my personal favorite."
Todd Arata, brand marketing SVP at Comcast likes the experience Peloton offers as it gets him moving. "I like to workout but don’t always have the time but somehow Peloton lets me know I can and encourages me. Also it stores so much data, which is so useful."
One thing that frustrates people is totally irrelevant targeting, explained Tifford: "Basic retargeting annoys me. I get diaper ads when I’ve just turned 50. It’s a big waste of time."
Melissa Berger, VP, group director, connections strategy at Digitas has had a similarly poor experience: "I bought a gift recently for a friend who has a baby and now all of the ads I’m targeted with are for baby items. Just because I bought a baby item, it doesn’t mean I am pregnant or have a baby."
For some marketers, their best personalized experiences actually occurred off-line. Brian Lange, VP marketing platforms at VF Corporation had a brilliant experience with Singapore Airlines: "I was traveling back from Asia and had a connection – the flight attendant on my second flight asked me whether I’d like another of the same drink I had on the first flight. I was impressed that that information had transitioned from flight one to flight two. It was incredible."
But Netflix divided the marketers. Colin Mitchell thinks their personalized experiences are best-in-class: "Right from the beginning, they have done a super job – unobtrusive and very intelligent – just the right degree of personalization. The individual profiles are genius."
In contrast, General Mills’ chief brand officer Brad Hiranaga gets shown a lot of content on Netflix that he describes as irrelevant: "A lot of love stories or shows I’m not interested in, it’s not a great experience."
The challenges to overcome to tap personalization’s full potential
Scaling personalization is a key challenge for many brands including GSK, explained Kahlon. "Our supply chain is our biggest instance. Traditionally in the CPG industry, it’s built for mass production. The challenge is how do we change that and cater for individuals?"
Milton Mattus, EVP at Barcel USA shares this struggle: "How do you make more customized and personalized experiences when your infrastructure was built in the last century? You have to start finding options outside your infrastructure to be able to adapt and make it happen."
Arata believes another challenge is maintaining authenticity with personalization.
But the biggest challenge for marketers – according to Kauffman – is that data and personalization is changing how you need to develop the creative. "You can’t create enough – we’re working on creating a modular and dynamic system where our brands will be able to extract insights from behaviors to inspire ideas," he added.
Kahlon agreed that marketers mustn’t forget the creative: "Creativity gets underrated sometimes, we become obsessed with the numbers but actually it’s really hard getting people’s attention these days. But 70 per cent of our ROI comes from creativity while 30 per cent is from targeting. So we’re focusing more on that creative spark."
Lanzi believes that creativity and storytelling is key to getting cut through with personalization.
"We talk to clients a lot about the need to combine systems and stories. Good creative should be invisible," she said.
How to get personalization right…in just one word (or two)
"Value" Jeremy Levine
"Trust" Andy Kauffman
"Problem-solving" Amy Lanzi
"Utility" Brad Hiranaga
"Don’t over-promise" Milton Mattus
"Branded" Colin Mitchell