Personalization Is No Longer a Choice — It’s a Necessity

Think Tank leaders grapple with evolution of personalization.

How we bring content, context, and the ability for people to make the right set of decisions is changing, and even industry leaders are feeling their way through the new rules of personalization, a panel of marketing experts said during Think Tank by Adobe, produced in conjunction with Adobe Summit in Las Vegas.

“In the last five years, I’ve watched the space go from being interesting to very ubiquitous — we have to do this in order to compete and win,” said Jeriad Zoghby, global personalization lead and southwest agency lead, Accenture Interactive. The shift from marketing communications to creating digital conversations changes the way brands interact with consumers, going from a monologue to a dialogue, Jeriad said, and altering the framework companies work within.

The panel, moderated by Ray Wang, principal analyst, founder and chairman of Constellation Research, dove into balancing customer information with privacy and responsibility, and explored the future of personalization and what it means for brands as they try to create better customer experiences.

Shifting from prediction to anticipation

Many brands have not yet established a relationship with their customers, but in an attempt to better meet consumers’ needs, they predict consumer behavior, Jeriad said. But that’s often where they come up short.

“People don’t want you to predict for them,” he said. If a customer needs a ride, they don’t want the car waiting outside before it’s called. “That’s creepy,” he said. “What you want is the anticipation that when I call for Uber, Uber is available for me when I asked for it on my terms.”

While prediction is creepy, anticipation is empowering. The difference, Jeriad said, is that predicting means the brand is in control and is trying to define the customer journey. In contrast, anticipation means the brand is creating flexibility for the consumer to be in control of the journey. The latter also creates the opportunity for new experiences, he added.

Collecting data responsibly

If businesses are going to collect customer data, they need to be transparent. Customers should have control over the process and the collection should result in a service to the customer, Jeriad said.

“If it’s a service to me, I’m happy to share my data. When you’re trying to create a new revenue stream off of my data, then the relationship breaks down quite a bit,” he said. For brands that focus on promotions to drive relationships, Jeriad said it’s akin to always having to take your friend out to dinner to spend time together. “That’s not a really great relationship. It may be one you want to move on from.”

Listening to your customers

When relying on personalization to build relationships, brands need to make sure they use the listening mechanisms they’ve established for customer feedback. Cecilia Farooqi, digital design lead at Equinox Fitness, shared her experience with a personal shopping subscription.

“I’ve clearly stated, ‘Don’t send me pants,’ so I’m communicating and sharing my preference, and I’m doing it in your web form,” she said, yet the company still sends her pants.

“If you’re going to be a good brand, and have a valued exchange with the customer, you give me [brand] information for a reason, so I can hopefully create a great experience for you,” Cecilia said. “You’ve got to have the listening mechanisms that can catch up to the customer.”

Educating your consumers

Brands don’t always explain why they’re asking for information, and, as a result, consumers may turn down the request. “That’s almost part of an onboarding experience, is to educate users on the benefits of enabling data sharing,” Cecilia said.

In other cases, brands aren’t specific about how long they need a certain type of information, such as location data, said Malthe Sigurdsson, head of design at Stripe. “A lot of people just ask the binary question: ‘Can I use your location, now and forever?’” Consumers may say no because the request seems too long-term, but if brands just ask for access for the next 10 minutes, consumers could be more willing to provide that information, Malthe said.

Essentially, specificity and transparency are key when brands ask consumers for their information.

The future of personalization

The panelists also discussed whether consumers were trading privacy for personalization. There wasn’t a consensus on the answer, but it did illustrate the difficult balance companies must strike as they leverage technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve the customer experience.

“What are we really giving up with privacy? What are we really gaining with giving it up?” said Leland Maschmeyer, Chobani’s chief creative officer. “Those are the types of conversations that we’ve never really had to have before, but all of the sudden all this technology is thrust upon us and all of the sudden it’s not just encroaching on privacy, it’s decimating it in a massive way that we’re not even realizing quite yet, so we’re trying to make sense of it as it’s happening.”

But as customer experience becomes a dominant differentiator for companies, personalization only will gain relevance, said Penny Wilson, Hootsuite’s chief marketing officer. AI will help enhance it, Wendy agreed, but if there’s a challenge to the increase in personalization, it will be creating enough content to support it, said Kelly Soligon, general manager of digital stores at Microsoft.

“Once you’ve been able to personalize and really target customers and speak to them in a relationship way, you have to have the right content [to keep the conversation going] … and it doesn’t exist right now,” Kelly said.

Still, as consumers expect more experiences tailored to their interests, personalization will be wide open — uncharted territory. As Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe summed it up, “There’s so much left to do in this space and it’s only just begun.”

Visit the Think Tank by Adobe page to watch the full discussion, and see what people are saying on social with #AdobeTT.