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This isn’t a period in which consumer trends have been put on hold – instead the pandemic is acting as an accelerator of many trends that were already being observed. As more people buy online, more data is created, and data feeds personalization. Even though people right now are purchasing more essential products, consumer data allows organizations to sell those products more effectively and to forecast future behavior. To be able to sell more effectively to individuals, brands must be capable of speaking to each and every person and meeting their current needs. To attract and retain customers you need to first know them.
To stay relevant and engage customers in times of upheaval brands must a) have immediate access to quality data from which to extrapolate meaningful insights, and b) be agile enough operationally to then quickly react to those insights, to adapt, innovate, and change course to win over consumer hearts.
Every one of us wants to be thought of as a person, not a type of person – we want to be thought of as unique, well, because each of us is unique. We don’t want to be grouped together, generalized, put into a box, and broadly represented by a persona. We want to be engaged by brands in an exclusive and meaningful way. We want our loyalty and trust to be earned. Personas are T, convenient fictions that have for too long prevailed and are formed on the basis of preconceived representations. By definition, these representations are imperfect, and can lead to an imperfect brand model.
Right now, the habits that seemed so ingrained before distancing restrictions came along, our social activity and our entertainment, are disappearing while certain other behaviors, such as shopping for essential food and household items, are reinforced on a daily basis. Some of these changes will remain temporary, others will become a part of our lives for some time. For many organizations, this creates a complex landscape of seemingly erratic patterns of engagement, further complicating the analysis of user or consumer behavior. This means that most retailers are unable to react quickly when dramatic changes come into play. And many retailers are unclear about which capabilities they need to build to create a truly personalized experience.
Data has become the world’s most valuable commodity. Organizations such as Amazon, Google, and Uber have built their entire model on customer behavior data and analytics. In a world where customer-centricity, personalization, and customer experience are king, it’s no surprise that these companies flourish. To succeed these days, brands need to articulate their product and service offerings continuously and proactively.
Not for a moment resting on their laurels, it is behemoths Nike and Netflix that are taking personalization to new heights.
Most of us who use Netflix know or suspect that there’s AI involved in powering our recommendations. But few of us realize just how tailored the experience is for us. Tony Jebora, head of machine learning at Netflix, speaking at The O’Reilly AI Conference, New York, 2019 explained, “When you look at your page what you’re seeing is an experience that’s been designed for you from top to bottom. And the way it becomes unique is we use machine learning to figure out how to personalize the ranking of our entire catalog of movies and TV shows.”
It was also revealed that Netflix’s machine learning team are developing an AI engine that can automatically generate trailers and descriptions that are more likely to appeal by analyzing a given customer’s behavior on the platform. 1
Nike’s growing list of vertical sub-brands, such as the “Nike Considered” sustainable line of shoes, are allowing the company to engage more precisely and more personally with consumers, and to respond to changing behaviors by calibrating each stream. Responding to the current need for home exercise in the current context of COVID-19 they have even started running home workout sessions featuring world-famous stars, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. The Living Room Cup is a digital workout series that offers consumers the chance to compete against Nike pro athletes through weekly fitness challenges directly from their own homes.2
There are many ways in which, by using the right data in the right way, organizations can move towards greater personalization. Here are some of them:
We’ve seen data enabling organizations to take a more bespoke approach and attract and retain customers, for instance by creating personalized homepages, displaying recently viewed items (retargeting), and personalizing product pages based on location. These are tried and tested methods. But, during this time of huge disruption, it will only be truly agile organizations, ones that are capable of analyzing vast quantities of real-time data with AI and advanced analytics, that will be able to navigate, and innovate their way to winning hearts, increasing their brand trust, and therefore their own relevance in the market.
Brands face a pressing need to adapt more precisely to the needs of individuals and communities in flux. There is no preference without desirability, no desirability without relevance. The brands that thrive in the future will be those that broadly unite individuals and communities and adapt their brand initiative to the real-life perceptions and aspirations of consumers. Our habits change quickly, and organizations have to be ready to change with us.
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