Personalisation: a short-term fad or long-term engagement strategy?

As more brands seek to connect with consumers on an emotional level, personalisation has become a novel way to reach out to the masses. But is it more than just a fad?

It is safe to say that personalisation has been making waves in the marketing industry. Perhaps the most well known example is Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign. It launched in the UK back in April 2013, and saw Coca-Cola grow its Facebook community by 3.5% and globally by 6.8%.

But the campaign also reversed declining sales for Coca-Cola. Thanks to the campaign, Coca-Cola’s value sales increased 4.93% year on year to £765 million in the 52 weeks to 17 August, according to IRI Worldwide data. Sales of all colas in the UK grew 2.75%, all carbonates 3.11% and the total soft drinks market’s value sales increased 2.36%.

More recent examples include Marmite, which is giving consumers the chance to personalise a Marmite jar with their or someone else’s name. The jars are available to buy from 9 November on the brand’s Facebook page.

Philippa Atkinson, assistant brand manager for Marmite, comments: “We’re delighted to be entering the growing market for personalised products. Marmite has an innate ability to create talkability and we believe our personalised jars will do just that.”

Meanwhile, Nutella came out with almost the exact same concept in a bid to interact with shoppers on a more personal level and build brand loyalty. The £1.7m ‘Your Nutella, Your Way’ campaign, which launched on 2 November, allows buyers to put their name on a jar of Nutella and will be promoted across TV, VoD, OOH, digital, social and in-store.

The reason for brands wanting to pursue personalisation is clear – consumers love something that’s personal and unique to them. Research by Hanley-Wood Business Media conducted in 2013 showed that 78% of consumers stated that brands that create unique and personalised content are more interested in building a relationship with them.

Digital first, FMCG to follow

Creating personalised experiences is something that companies tend to do very well digitally. As companies like Netflix and Amazon are able to suggest personalised offerings, it is only natural to see FMCG companies such as Cadbury, Nutella and Marmite wanting to get in on the act.

“These product customisations are generally limited to labelling changes at present, but in time we will begin to see personalisation of the actual product as brands recognise success with these initiatives,” says Jim Mason, executive director of strategy and insight at Razorfish London.

You could even take it one step further and suggest that personalisation might become the mechanic that is going to enable traditional brands to fight back against digital upstarts that have personalisation baked into their heritage.

“It is not a fad. We know personalisation is the norm in the digital sphere, but bricks and mortar businesses are catching up. It’s the time for legacy brands to fight back,” says Richard Robinson, managing director at Oystercatchers.

Technology is key

The big shift in the use of personalisation has happened through the use of technology, allowing brands to be more targeted. It’s always been key for marketers to build a one on one relationship, where the offering is unique to the consumer and is communicated through the right channels at the right time.

“With advances in CRM technologies, access to both big and small data and the effective use of this data is bringing us close to the one to one relationship,” explains Ben Botes, associate lecturer at London School of Business and Finance and CMO of Caban Investments UK.

The companies that will be most successful are those which are able to keep up with the technology.

“My prediction is that all brands will adopt personalisation. But the question remains how fast can they adopt technology and adapt before they become irrelevant,” says Robinson.


Short term buzz versus long term benefits

But not everyone is quick to praise the major brands’ personalisation efforts. While personalisation campaigns launched by brands such as Marmite, Heinz and Nutella prove popular with consumers, ‘personalisation’ is at risk of becoming a misused buzzword.

Personalisation isn’t about calling consumers by their name, but rather about brands making an emotional connection with them as individuals that transcends labels and packaging.

“Being able to go to a website, enter your name and have it printed onto a label is ‘customisation’. While Marmite might be offering customised labels, the brand isn’t about to start reformulating its recipe based on my personal dietary preferences, or shaping its jar to better fit my kitchen cupboards, so customisation will have its inevitable limit,” says Paul Taylor, BrandOpus executive creative director.

“Campaigns such as these may be successful at creating some short term hype but we need to consider, from a consumer engagement point, what’s in it for the brand long term?”
Be careful not to be creepy

Brands should be careful not to overstep the mark when it comes to its personalised communications. Consent to marketing is the single most important factor in enabling personalisation campaigns to go ahead.

“If executed well, personalisation is great for both the customer and marketer, but done badly it can impose on people’s privacy and encourage people to opt out of marketing altogether.”

– Nick Evans, Jaywing marketing practice director

“Even after customers have opted in, marketers need to be careful that they don’t abuse individual permissions with communications that are overly personalised, and feel creepy and intrusive as a result. The key to this is testing and learning what does and doesn’t work,” Evans says.

If companies manage to maintain their brand essence despite the personalisation of offerings as well as stick to the relevant guidelines around customer privacy, they might be on to a winner.

“Providing that we can find the balance between these key issues, we should certainly see an increasing amount of success achieved through the personalisation of branded offerings,” concludes Botes.