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Is mass personalisation the future for brands?

“Blue like my boyfriend’s eyes or golden like my personality?”

Jen is choosing her new car specifications.  Most of it has been simple: of course she needs heated seats and black leather interior trim; fancy wheels and the best possible sound system.  All of that took just moments.  The tough question is the exterior colour.  There’s a range of standard colours – that’s one thing – but in addition she could pay extra and get her own unique choice and one-off design.  In the end this dilemma proves too much for her and she defaults back to one of the standardised colours, after all, they pick the standard colours because the car looks good in them don’t they? You can’t go wrong with silver.  The challenge of personalisation to her own specific taste just gave her a headache.

Mass personalisation: is this the future of for brands?

The principle of personalised marketing has been around for a while.  Consultant John Grant wrote in 2000 in his first book: “The New Marketing Manifesto” that the old rules of marketing didn’t apply anymore.  Modern brands, brands with a desire to grow, needed to adopt a more intimate approach to marketing: to be “Up close and Personal”.

Fifteen years later Deloitte have just published their latest consumer review: “Made-to-order”.  They say; “In the era of all things digital, consumers have higher expectations: they want their interactions with businesses and the products and services they buy from them to be personalised”.

As the report also points out however it is crucial to get the level of personalisation right.  No-one wants a stalker.  And as one marketing expert once said: “I don’t want a relationship with my bank; I have a relationship with my wife and family.  I want efficient service from my bank”.  People have different requirements of their interface with different categories.

We have entered an era of mass personalisation at scale.  The idea might have been around for a decade and a half, but the means of production have been slower to develop.  A new imperative for any marketing campaign is therefore to explore what degree of personalisation is suitable.  How is it useful and relevant?  Will it improve returns for immediate sales and what is the longterm brand effect?  No brand can afford to get this wrong.

According to Deloitte’s report three quarters of consumers said that they receive too many emails from brands; half are avoiding brands that contact them with poorly targeted comms and two thirds have “unfollowed brands”, closed their accounts or cancelled subscriptions.

Look, there’s a difference between a survey and outcomes in the real world.  It is difficult to think of what kind of consumer (perhaps a very lonely one) would express an active preference for being targeted in the former.  The facts of return on investment for appropriate personalisation mean that every brand will consider how to deploy it.  Consumers will reject communications that use their personal information badly.  A single customer view is an essential piece of hygiene now.

The good news of the report is that in some categories consumers state a willingness to pay a premium for personalisation.

How this pans out in reality may be another issue.  The paradox of choice can apply if you’re asked to specify a personal design preference or unique colour for a product you’re purchasing.  As for customer involvement in a campaign idea, people like to be asked, but they prefer to watch, maybe to share, than to create.  It’s a good, personal assistant that consumers are after, not a stalker nor to be expected to work for the brand.

Meanwhile Jen’s got her new car now, and is regretting her decision, wishing instead that she’d plumped for fuschia.

First published on Campaign Live 13 August 2015

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