Skip to main content

Failure of Personalisation

Despite significant advancements in personalisation capabilities (through new Martech and analytics skillsets within organisations) people are still not feeling the benefits. In a recent survey carried out by Deloitte, 39% of respondents don’t find the products that brands recommend to them online useful.

However, those aged 16-24 are three times more likely to find the recommendations useful as opposed to those aged 55+ (unsurprising if aged 55+ are doing less online shopping or browsing and therefore less opportunities for organisations to gather data on those people). Furthermore, more than half of respondents (56%) are unhappy about companies using their information to offer personalised products. Showing that personalisation is still not resonating with people. Is that because brands aren't making use of what information they do have? Is it because they are not providing the content which customers value? Why are brands falling short when it comes to personalisation and failing to reassure customers about how they use data to tailor experiences? Why has personalisation failed? Has it? What even is personalisation?

The pursuit of personalisation – Herein lies the first problem; Personalisation, what does it mean? Or what do you mean when you say ‘personalisation’? For my own clarity, I’m writing this through the lens of customer experience in digital channels.

So, let’s clear up a few things whilst ignoring the sales pitch of the latest MarTech or AdTech vendor as we put ourselves in the shoes of a real people, engaging with the brands that serve them.

Recommendations – Common practice on e-commerce websites; a widget recommends a range of products that says ‘you might like this’ or ‘others also bought’. A clever algorithm is suggesting products based on browsing behaviour and previous customer sales calculating the probability that you will buy one of the products it recommends – add in a bit of bandit testing and you could argue the widget is personalising the experience to you individually based on billions of unique variations. Ultimately the goal of the recommendation widget is to sell more products with all the benefit loaded in the brands favour. It’s not about an experience, it’s about selling so let’s just call it ‘recommendations’ and move on.

Re-targeting – The one where your mum says Facebook knows everything and you visit a website and then for days after a carousel follows you around the internet begging, pleading with you to give you to give the brand another chance and reconsider buying their product. Let’s just call this re-targeting and again, the benefit is weighted in the brand's favour because let’s face it, no one loves being re-targeted, but yes it works well.

Customised products Some brands clearly lead the way in this area, particularly in clothing and footwear, where customising and designing your own, or viewing and buying designs by others has been around for some time. It’s purely customisation.

Why's this important? I’m sceptical of research that says personalisation is not resonating with customers because if we are honest, most people have trouble distinguishing between recommendations, customisations and retargeting and bucketing these tactics under the umbrella of personalisation is unhelpful.

So what is personalisation?

Feel free to disagree but I like to think a truly personalised experience should be imperceptible. An amalgamation of the ‘little things’ tailored to support people achieving their specific goals whilst surprising them in the process; a customer should be left wondering if it was deliberate act or perhaps just a little bit of luck not ever really knowing why, but happy that it did. Personalisation should help you achieve your goals, increase the emotive connection with the brand and not be an overt recommendation or retargeting to drive increased sales for a brand.

Personalisation shouldn’t be creepy either. Mistrust in use of data is at an all-time high and people don’t like the idea of their data being used against them, but expect brands at the very least to use their data to help them.

My experience of taking our children on their first transatlantic flight was soured when it became clear after take-off that because I hadn’t contacted the airline to specifically book children’s meals, despite booking two child tickets, the children could go hungry as no kids meals were confirmed. The airline had the passenger data, so why not use it to make sure everyone is well looked after, fed and has a great experience? Such a simple thing to deliver.

Traditionally the travel and hospitality industry has been an expert at personalisation. Pub landlords who remember your favourite beer or the waiter that remembers your favourite dish are small examples that create emotional responses that bring us back time and again. Luxury brands both in retail, travel and hospitality go the extra mile to research their rich clients to offer them experiences that breed deeply emotive loyalty. But luxury brands, top-end hotels or your local pub all have one thing in common - to consistently deliver personalised experiences largely has relied on great employees.

But it’s hard to scale. Personalised experiences are a function of quality data, the ability to build and refine models over time, create relevant, nuanced content at speed, leverage technology to execute experiences across channels and gather feedback from the event to optimise for your customers’ next interaction.

It would be fair at this point to call out the Financial Services industry. Banks have been laggards in delivering personalised customer experiences and with more data about us than you can shake a stick at, and implicit permission to use it for our benefit, they have no excuses. Private Banking traditionally has followed the hospitality or luxury approach - great people doing a good job. But for average Joe, why is the experience with banks so awful?

Over and above creating the business case to support investment and a clear line of sight to financial returns (we’re seeing an aggressive acceleration to digitisation due to COVID-19) the building blocks for personalisation are challenging to say the least;

As a business, ask yourself:

  • Do you understand the audience you are targeting and are you able to pinpoint when the experience should be delivered?
  • Do you have the data available to trigger the event (both 1st party and browser data)?
  • Can you generate content at scale, cost effectively to satisfy personalised variants?
  • Do you have the right marketing technology in place to deliver the enhancement?
  • Can you integrate your technology?
  • What’s the size of audience you will be targeting and can you generate an ROI against your business KPIs?

And perhaps the most important:

  • Can you remove politics from your organisation and invest in cross-functional teams to proactively work through backlogs of enhancements on behalf of your customers to future proof your business?

These are complicated questions to answer for an organisation and there’s no silver bullet or quick route to success (well, you can plug in a recommendation engine :)).

Personalisation hasn’t failed. To fail it would need to be a tick box exercise. But it’s not. Personalisation is the North Star of a rich customer experience and should be part of your company's DNA to want to make your customers lives better, using data ethically to help them achieve their goals.

Is your organisation connecting with individuals in ways that speak to their values and goes beyond a homogenous customer experience? To create brand loyalty and drive business growth you need to put the human into digital. Our Future of Experience hub provides insights and perspectives from our team of marketing and experience experts to help you do just that. Take a look at the content here.

If you’d like to chat through any of the points that Phil covers, please get in touch using the contact details below.

Meet the author

Phil Guilfoyle

Director, Deloitte Digital

Phil works for Deloitte Digital in our Financial Services sector. He’s a digital strategist and marketing technologist with over 18 year’s experience spent in digital marketing, user experience and technology. Phil has led numerous projects for FTSE 100 clients advising them on their marketing technology systems, digital marketing organisation and helping them transform, improve customer experience, drive revenue or bring new products to market.