Personalisation comes in many forms, from recommendations based on browsing behaviour to tailored offers derived from purchasing habits, and online ads and emails that use login data to customise communications.
But there are several aspects of the personalisation process that brands must consider before investing in this type of activity, such as deciding where and how to target the right audience and finding the right data to pull it off.
Knowing your customers’ interests is a good starting point. As well as using cookie data and grouping customers based on trends and insights, Lastminute.com looks at the type of holiday customers are interested in booking and specific destinations.
For example, showing an ad for car hire in Italy to someone who is about to go on holiday to Rome yields a higher click-through rate and conversion to buy that product or service. “It turns information into content,” says Alessandra Di Lorenzo, chief commercial officer, advertising and partnerships at Lastminute.com Group. “We talk about data and return on investment from a corporate perspective but I’m a big believer that if a message is relevant, there is added value to the customer.”
She adds: “You are giving the customer a piece of information that may help with their travel or give them something they may need to travel with.”
Media startup Culture Trip also focuses on people’s interests to provide personalised content and recommendations about food, travel and things to do using local knowledge.
“We have a knowledge graph that combines all the data in our articles and [on other sites] to do with culture, lifestyle and the actual users, which goes in an enormous database,” says CEO and founder, Kris Naudts. “Cultural content and the relationship between users’ articles is mapped and given a certain weighting from which we can serve personalised recommendations.”
Personalisation should be about helping the customer to buy rather than going for the hard sell.
Rob Bassett, eBay
The business aims to create experiences with this knowledge that are more akin to a social network as Naudts believes this is “what consumers have come to expect”.
The company is launching an app next year that will suggest different types of content based on users’ interests and what they have looked at on the site or in the app. An additional social element will factor in people’s personal profiles, which can be shared.
“That will put a deep gap between what publishers provide today and us,” says Naudts.
Focus on individual needs
Targeting can be tricky for brands, particularly when consumers share devices, as the person browsing may not be the primary user of that device so personalised content can get skewed.
Fashion brand Reiss wanted to find new customers for its spring/summer 2016 collection, so working with marketing agency Threepipe and Time Inc-owned ad tech firm Viant it used targeting to pinpoint fashion-conscious consumers within a specific age group.
“While identifying our specific consumer segment was the first challenge, making sure our advertising had the right impact on these consumers was also key,” says Stephanie Ross, global digital marketing manager at Reiss.
“Using data to identify real individuals rather than just individual mobile devices meant we could control the reach and frequency of our ads across the same user’s desktop, mobile and tablet. This ultimately prevented users seeing the same ad again and again on different devices, so avoiding fatigue,” she adds.
Making sure advertising was targeted to the audience’s preferred device paid dividends and drove an increase in ROI for the campaign, according to Ross.
Consumers across all age groups expect brands to listen to them but for millennials it is critical. A recent survey by American Express into consumer purchasing habits found that nearly a third (32%) of UK adults expect brands to customise offers to suit their needs but this number rises to almost half (48%) for millennials. Millennials are also more likely to go out of their way to use a customised offer (39%) compared to other age groups (32%).
Dan Edelman, vice-president for marketing at American Express, believes personalisation is good for brands and consumers alike. He says: “Approaching your customers with customised, relevant information that reflects their interests and priorities is ultimately what builds meaningful relationships.”
“Personalisation should be about helping the customer to buy rather than going for the hard sell,” says Rob Bassett, head of UK and EU multinational advertising at eBay.
Brands can also find opportunities by targeting consumers searching for similar or connected products in other sectors.
It’s about trying to enhance the experience. We shouldn’t be personalising just because we can.
Joe Turner, Eurostar
Bassett says flash memory manufacturer SanDisk trebled sales by targeting shoppers on eBay who had been searching for and buying laptops, cameras and tablets because it knew shoppers would be in need of such products.
Paying attention to specific life stages can also help brands personalise content and target consumers at the appropriate time. So instead of targeting all women in their 30s, brands can just target new mums, for example, based on their recent buying behaviour.
“Not only does increasing relevance minimise wastage, it makes the content genuinely helpful and removes the risk of alienating consumers,” says Bassett.
Testing a number of options can also bring to light new opportunities and help brands improve personalised content. Working with Monetate, Eurostar was able to enhance the digital customer experience and conversion rate, reduce calls to its customer contact centre and increase the number of registrations on its site.
Joe Turner, digital optimisation manager at Eurostar, says: “It’s about trying to enhance the experience. We shouldn’t be personalising just because we can.”
He says it is about “looking for opportunities in the content and designs you already have and creating opportunities by A/B testing new designs and thinking how to be more relevant for the audience”.
One of the ways of doing that is looking at “personas and market segments”. For Eurostar, it is about enhancing the experience for audiences rather than thinking about “what we want to show them as marketers”.
Eurostar wanted to address feedback that new visitors are unaware of Eurostar’s USPs. An A/B test that showcased key points on the homepage resulted in a 6.2% increase in new visitor conversion rates and a 3.7% increase in overall conversion rates.
The company then created targeted messaging for registered users to increase the number of registrations on site to help improve its customer insights. This resulted in a 96% increase in registrations.
There is such a thing as too much personalisation and targeting so brands must find a balance between being useful, allowing for discovery and avoiding ad fatigue. Using data to create personalised communications based on genuine interests and needs and testing this with audiences could provide the best return for brands.