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Creating emotional connections in an era of hyper-personalisation

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Every customer is an individual; and therefore appreciates personalised service when interacting with a brand or business. Marketers know that personalisation is powerful. But, with personalisation being pushed into new realms by digital technology, it’s easy to take it too far. When this happens, marketers can alienate the very people they’re trying to connect with.

Traditionally, marketers have segmented their audiences based on traits such as age, gender, location and job role, allowing them to tailor their messaging and engage customers on a more personal level. Now – personalisation has evolved beyond sending a generic email on a customer’s birthday or printing people’s names on soft drink cans. These techniques were a novelty at the time, but is this type of “mass personalisation” approach enough to build lasting customer relationships?

Today, there’s a greater volume of customer data available, relating to behaviour across multiple digital touchpoints. Technology is advancing rapidly, providing the tools to crunch all this data in more sophisticated ways. These developments are making it possible for marketers to identify and analyse patterns in customer data that provide a more detailed – and personalised – picture of each customer. They’re also able to use this picture to offer tailored customer experiences (such as the personalised e-commerce recommendations that were first made famous by Amazon).

When you introduce the analytical and statistical modelling capabilities of emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, and the data-gathering abilities of devices linked to the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s possible to manage customer-related data much more intelligently to create personalised user experiences in real-time and send tailored messages to segments of one.

This is the era of hyper-personalisation, where marketers are mining data and applying algorithms to gain a clearer understanding of customers’ needs and intentions. Salesforce's VP of product marketing, Bobby Jania, sums it up as follows:

“We can now listen to what customers are doing through in-store, online, their purchase history, marketing, commerce, service, and use that information to figure out what the next step should be and engage the consumer on the channel they choose.” (1)

While hyper-personalisation certainly holds immense potential for marketers and the businesses they serve – is this really the apex of personalisation? Is it enough?

What’s missing?

While these methodologies are certainly useful in the broader marketing context, they do not always work on their own – especially not when you’re operating in a complex B2B marketing context that involves high purchase prices and long sales cycles.

Where’s the emotional connection?

Today, when so many people seem to interact with friends and family via their devices more often than they do in person, it can feel like no-one is really listening to or connecting with anyone else. Our attention and time are absorbed by multiple screens throughout the day. In fact, research shows that UK adults spend 8 hours and 41 minutes per day on screens, on average – equating to more time than they spend asleep!

In this context, people are growing more and more disconnected from each other. So, when you reach out to a customer in person and give that individual your undivided attention, really listen to what he or she has to say and responding in a way that shows you understand and care, this can create an emotional connection that feels very powerful in today’s screen-driven marketing environment.

Why? Because when you connect with a customer at an emotional level, you have the opportunity to show the human side of your brand and forge a strong foundation for future relationship-building. You can also gain insight into the feelings that feed into the customer’s decisions and discover the emotional needs that your customer is looking to fulfil.

These things are not easy to achieve through data-driven marketing techniques alone, even when they’re powered by cutting-edge digital technologies. This is why you also need to include human-driven techniques in your personalisation strategy.

It’s not complicated. You simply need to strike up a conversation with your customer, listen to what they’re saying and respond in a way that shows you value them.

Engaging a customer in an unscripted dialogue – whether you’re at a conference or speaking over the phone – may seem like a time-consuming option in a world where digital technology can do so much of the grunt work for us. But it’s difficult to beat a real-world conversation between two human beings when you’re looking to create an emotional connection, build a relationship and gain trust.

Data-based assumptions vs. real insights

A real conversation between a business and a customer enables this business to build rapport, ask open-ended questions and gather insights that are framed in the customer’s own words – rather than assumptions based on data. (There’s always room for error when making assumptions, even when these are based on big data and sophisticated algorithms.)

During a dialogue, you can also gain customers’ trust and encourage them to open up about issues they may not feel comfortable sharing on other platforms. You can also quickly adapt your value proposition in real-time as you learn more about each customer and his or her role in the business.

Ultimately – one-to-one conversations allow you to build the emotional connection that’s required to uncover genuine insights, because you’re not talking at the customer, you’re conversing with them. The conversation is two-sided rather than one-sided. During a two-way conversation with a customer, you’re able to evolve your dialogue as you establish a good rapport and your understanding of the customer deepens. This allows you to gain more nuanced insights, which are more than snapshots of customer behaviour in the moment or single data points.

Don’t forget trust and authenticity

We’re living at a time when technology is emerging so fast that it’s reached the bleeding-edge –where digital marketing tools are so new that they may not be stable or they mimic human behaviour in a way that comes across as creepy. Often, this is due to the technology using information about customers that is very personal and intimate.

One example is social media giants making news headlines for misusing customers’ personal data. Late last year, the New York Times reported that Facebook had provided other organisations with access to the names of Facebook users’ friends and the ability to read users’ private messages without consent (2).

This, Cambridge Analytica, and other privacy scandals have led to a loss of trust between people and the companies they interact with. In this environment, marketing tactics that rely purely on analysing customer data can come across as inauthentic, because this data tends to be personal and the use of it can feel invasive. This can create a situation where hyper-personalisation alienates the customer instead of earning their trust.

Research shows that the vast majority of customers – 79% – will cut brand interactions and relationships short if their personal data is being used without their knowledge (3). Unless organisations are extremely transparent about their data practices, customers may question whether these businesses are keeping their personal data confidential. Your business may have already re-visited the way you approach data privacy, due to your obligations under GDPR; but now there’s an opportunity to stay true to both the letter and spirit of the law, by letting customers know that you respect their privacy and that you’re committed to using their data responsibly.

But beyond this, it’s also important to move away from a heavy reliance on data-driven digital communication platforms; and to explore new ways of connecting with your customers – such as striking up genuine conversations with them. Studies show that 86% of people are more likely to support brands that come across as authentic (4). Authenticity is difficult to achieve through digital means alone. Rather, businesses should show customers the people behind the brand – revealing a more human side and giving customers one-on-one attention. When you take the time to engage customers in real conversations – over the phone or in person – you’re sending a signal that you genuinely value your customers and their opinions, experiences, needs and goals.

Authenticity also comes from having, communicating and demonstrating a sense of purpose. Today, many customers have higher expectations of the businesses they engage with. They want to build relationships with brands that are based on shared values and a purpose that they can believe in. When businesses behave ethically and with a sense of social and/or environmental responsibility, this creates a foundation for winning the hearts, minds and trust of their customers. It’s difficult to connect on this level when you’re only communicating digitally with customers. When you have a real discussion about your shared values or purpose, it just feels more authentic. It’s time to make personalisation more human.

Personalisation remains important in the B2B context. Customers do want tailored solutions that suit their unique business needs. But they also want businesses to understand these needs thoroughly – something that is very difficult to achieve when the business does not actually know the customer personally but has rather formed a picture of this individual based on assumptions from their digital footprint.

Today, personalisation can’t be a one-sided exercise based on data alone, especially when this feeds into hyper-personalisation approaches that miss the mark or feel intrusive, such as a digital advert that follows you around everywhere, punting a solution you viewed online but never really needed. True personalisation that paints a rich, accurate picture of a customer’s buying stage, needs, motivations and feelings requires human interaction. Digital tools like bots aren’t yet at a point where they can authentically replicate human behaviour and it is vital that marketers have a feed of insights gained from quality, one-to-one conversations with customers, made richer because they’re conducted by real humans, in real-time.

Find out how we can help you to add more human-driven insights into your personalisation strategy going forward. Get in touch today.

[1] https://www.cmo.com.au/article/647564/salesforce-personalisation-long-way-off-what-consumers-now-expect/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/technology/facebook-privacy.html#click=https://t.co/p565d1TX5L

[3] https://hbr.org/2018/06/to-regain-consumers-trust-marketers-need-transparent-data-practices

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelfertik/2019/01/14/as-trust-among-consumers-wavers-authenticity-is-critical/

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