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Personalization is dead, long live hyper-individualization

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Today, it is all about you, the consumer. Your needs, dreams, desires, and thoughts are the new capital. The future belongs to companies that create experiences around this. Hyper-individualization is the new standard for marketers and product designers.

We should not target customer experience at the masses, but at the individual. With this is mind, over the past years marketers and product designers have honed their messages and products.

This has not been without effect. Marketing expressions are now better targeted. The newsletters in our inbox increasingly include a personal salutation. When surfing the web, we see advertisements of products within our field of interest. Marketers have at times done their homework, and the messages are genuinely interesting.

Personalization is no longer enough

Personalization has led to charming attempts when it comes to marketing, but that is no longer enough. Closer examination shows that the above mentioned examples – which appear personalized – are still not marketing expressions made for the individual.

Let me explain: Each outdoor clothing enthusiast sees the same advertisement of an insulating fleece vest or a winter coat with a waterproof, though breathable coating. And apart from the personal salutation, each newsletter recipient ultimately reads the very same newsletter.

Yes, the messages are now more targeted and customized to a certain extent. But this still doesn’t make the messages unique expressions targeted at the specific individual. They are merely adjustments to the generic content.

RIP: Buyer personas are dead

A side effect of the personalization trend is buyer personas. In my opinion, they can be discarded.

Buyer personas are fictive individuals with traits that define the intended target group. Yet there will not be a single individual that shares those exact traits. A buyer persona is simply not accurate enough, as it does not represent an individual.

This instrument is not a sound basis for a customized customer experience, so get rid of it. It is high time that companies realize this, and take the following step: It is called hyper-individualization.

What is hyper-individualization?

So what does a hyper-individualized customer experience look like then? Just think of a web shop that adapts itself entirely to the individual’s preferences as a customer shops there more often. Or take, for example, a clothing item that is not only tailored to the individual with regard to sizing, but also includes the desired print, material choice, and insulation value.

The concept can also be effectively applied in the call centre. Think, for instance, of a call where the relevant purchase and contact history is immediately visible for the help-desk employee, can who in turn provide a much more targeted service.

Some enterprises are already aware of this need and lead by example, such as Xertonline.com, an online service targeted at amateur and professional cyclists. Instead of the generic training software that currently dominates the market, they have a different approach. Xertonline.com creates a tailored training program based on the unique qualities, weaknesses, and the desired objective of the individual sportsperson.

The service fully and automatically establishes the individual characteristics by means of previously cycled rides, and shows exactly how fit or fatigued the sportsperson is based on each ride. Based on all of this, it composes – once again fully automatically – a training regimen that help the individual reach their goal.

Whilst an individual approach like this usually requires a sports coach, Xertonline.com does so entirely on the basis of machine learning and AI. They have literally turned hyper-individualization into their unique selling point. No two customer experiences are the same.

Proceed with caution: Privacy matters most

So should organizations blindly jump on the individualization train? Some caution is desirable, as there is a catch. Fully tailoring the customer experience to the individual means knowing a lot about the person, and should – depending on the service supplied – have as complete a picture of the unique characteristics and preferences as possible.

This means that you should as a company get up close to your customer and understand their privacy preferences. This is a very meticulous course. The modern consumer is highly aware of their privacy rights – they are increasingly capable of determining what they share, when, and with whom, and how far that glimpse into their life reaches.

Timing is everything

Specific customer goodwill is a solid prerequisite. You do not gain this by asking someone too many questions right from the very first moment of contact. I you were to do so, then you should be very clear on ‘what’s in it for them’.

A sustainable customer relationship is in all cases an important prerequisite for success, and is only achieved by timing the collection of the required data well. Know when to ask what, without the customer feeling overwhelmed by questions that invade their privacy.

Without customer confidence, you will never gain your customer’s generosity in personal data necessary for hyper-individual customer experiences.

GDPR is only a starting point

There has been much debate about the GDPR with regard to data collection and processing. But this legislation is actually a poor starting point for good behavior. You should genuinely want to know more about the customer, as you wish to provide a better service.

However, you should also sense when you are going too far as an organization. All of the regulations in the GDPR assume reasonability. Hyper-individualization should never feel as though you’re over-stepping your bounds, even if you meet all the playing rules. This means that organizations should work on a sustainable relationship with the customer. Just like in any other relationship, this can only be built at a leisurely pace, step by step.

Collaboration is key

Hyper-individualization is a good argument for co-creation, as pieces of the needs puzzle can be spread across multiple organizations.

Take, for instance, the increasingly popular smart speakers from Google and Amazon. These personal assistants are firstly a fine example of erecting a hyper-individual customer experience, because the more the devices know about your preferences and habits, the more helpful they are. But they are also devices that can be valuable for retailers.

Just think of a web shop that – obviously with the customer’s consent – shares purchase details with these platforms. The smart speaker then gains a better insight into the user’s preferences. The next time, the user can easily and directly place an order for a new carton of chocolate milk or the correct ink cartridge via a voice command. The possibilities for collaboration in this area are endless.

Technology is mere aid

Many discussions that I engage in with customers about individualizing the customer experience are about technology. This is understandable, as technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics reveal patterns, behaviors, and habits.

It is, however, not a good starting point for those who want to get started with hyper-individualization. Those who only think in terms of technological possibilities ignore the customer’s desires, challenges, and needs, whilst precisely these issues lie at the very core. Technology is a mere aid to create those individual experiences.

A generalist target approach has had its day. It is not easy to balance on the thin dividing line between unwanted privacy violations and a tailored customer experience. However, those that clearly understand this and translate it into an attractive business model can bank on success.

Learn more about engaging the digitally empowered buyer. Watch our free webinar here

Mark de Bruijn
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19 shares
January 9, 2019
Mark de Bruijn

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