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Personalization has become a priority for almost every consumer brand. Studies show that effective personalization consistently drives superior brand performance. Recent Epsilon research indicated 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase when brands offer personalized experience, with 90% finding personalization appealing¹. By contrast, 71% of consumers say they grow frustrated when their shopping experience feels impersonal.

However, how does one define personalization, personalized experiences, and personalized marketing?

Many business leaders and marketers will suggest it’s all about taking customer data, derived from third party sources and/or emerging MarTech solutions, and using sophisticated statistical models to deliver experiences or messaging tailored to the unique needs of those customers.

That might work in theory, but brands are beginning to realize customer data is not always accurate and often “stale” given the pace of change in today’s market. Even when the data is good it is almost always incomplete, as the vast majority of consumer brands know almost nothing about their customers when they are not doing business with the brand.

It is for this reason that true personalization is the result of a broader strategy that combines technology with a personal relationship between a brand and its customers.

Knowing this, it’s no wonder marketers that rely solely on technology are often disappointed when their personalization strategies underperform. Moreover, personalization doesn’t build customer relationships, at least not initially. Effective customer relationships are built over time and based on a “dialogue” that allow brands to get a more detailed and holistic sense of each customer, which is what drives the most effective forms of personalization.

Too Much Technology Depersonalizes A Brand

New co-branded research from Worldwide Partners (WP) and Global Web Index (GWI) indicates consumers may be reaching a tipping point when it comes to technology. The research suggested that the more connected we become, the more we are beginning to resist technology, as a result of “tech fatigue.” This appears to be having a disproportionate impact on brands, as according to the research.

“For as much as technology has facilitated innovative marketing, it has inevitably created a barrier between the consumer and the brand.”

Unfortunately, COVID-19 and the “lockdown life” most of us have been forced to endure, has exacerbated tech fatigue, as consumers are tied to technology longer and more often than ever before. As a result, companies focused on the continued deployment of automated attendants, AI, and other marketing technology to improve efficiency and cut costs should take notice. The days of trading high touch for high tech appear to be coming to an end given the uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 and the reassurance consumers will need as a result.

It is therefore not surprising that existing customer consumers are increasingly craving a human experience with the brands they choose most often. According to the WP/GWI research, what consumers want to see from brands is changing. They want personality, shared social values, recognition for their loyalty, and a connection with the brand. They want to know the things they buy are somehow connected to a real human story or community.

In fact, the research indicated that between 2012 and 2020 the number of consumers who said they would buy a product or service simply to be part of a community built around it grew by 36%. What is unique to all these factors, from personality to belonging, is that they are driven by emotion, something even the latest technology is incapable of processing.

Trust And Personalization – A Lifelong Partnership

Successful brands understand that customer relationships are built on both rational and emotional factors. They understand that how customers feel about a brand is just as important, if not more so, than what they get from that brand. The more a brand understands and addresses the emotional part of the human brain, called the Limbic System, the easier it becomes to connect, or reconnect, with its customers to establish the kind of personal relationship that can provide the insights and understanding leading to true personalization. Once achieved, restoring trust is just a matter of time.

Brands have little time to waste, especially in today’s environment. According to Young & Rubicam’s BrandAsset Valuator, brand trust has been in decline for over 20 years, since the start of the digital age. This ties directly to the depersonalizing effects of technology, compounded by the many highly publicized security breaches, and a perception brands are profiting from their customers’ personal information without the customer’s knowledge or permission.

In this landscape, restoring customer trust is more than just a strategic imperative, it is a mandate for survival in what is sure to be an economically challenged marketplace. Trust will become a difference-maker, as evidenced by recent research from the Concerto Marketing Group, which indicated that when consumers trust a brand, 83% will recommend it, 82% will use it more frequently, and 50% will pay more for it. In what are likely to be battles for market share in an environment deprived of the robust economic growth experienced over the last 12 years, trust will determine the ultimate winners and losers.

If the Concerto research isn’t sufficiently compelling, perhaps Steve Jobs’ definition of a brand might be, as he believed, “A brand is simply trust.” It then stands to reason that without trust there is no brand.

Rebuilding or Restoring Trust

New regulatory policies such as those outlined by GDPR and CCPA are attempting to address some of the more egregious issues affecting trust. These and other regulations are attempting to restore a permission-based marketing standard that appears to have been lost in the rush to digital. But it is unlikely it will be enough.

Beyond having to adapt to these new regulatory restrictions, brands may need to rethink their marketing strategy, and if required, reintroduce the human factor as the work to build stronger relationships with their customers. To facilitate the process, REACH has developed a simple, yet proven, framework for building strong personal relationships. It is called The Trinity of Trust, and it is based on a combination of commitment, consistency, and ongoing communication.

With this approach, brands can build an effective bridge to restoring trust. However, brands should not expect results overnight, as restoring trust takes time, which is why the first tenet of the Trinity of Trust is commitment.

There are brands that recognize that true personalization requires a personal relationship with the customer and a more “human” approach to marketing well before the pandemic. A good example is Mr. Cooper, formerly Nationstar. a financial services brand that sought to reinvent itself by creating a brand personality that is far less inanimate and impersonal. Mr. Cooper is executing a strategy that resounds with empathy, understanding, and sensitivity. Their entire approach has a humane and sensitive feel. When you contact them, even the initial automated attendant has been programmed with personality, although it’s easy enough to get a real human to help quickly. For those that prefer a more automated experience, that is available as well, an approach that lays the groundwork for effective personalization.

Mr. Cooper understands that its people are an extension of its brand. They demonstrate this by how much they invest in training and how they empower their people, affording them the latitude to address each customer’s needs in what appears to be a very personal way. Mr. Cooper obviously understands the deep value of personalization rooted in commitment, consistency, and ongoing communication.

Time to Double Down on Personalization

There has not been a more critical time in the last decade-plus for brands to follow Mr. Cooper and other brands reverting to a more personal relationship with their customers. Treating customers as individuals, demonstrating commitment and appreciation for their business, and establishing an ongoing dialogue, is the most effective path to true personalization, and trust. This is something that must permeate the entire organization, as saying it and not doing it can be worse than not saying or doing it at all.Starting with the Trinity of Trust offers any brand a simple strategic foundation from what to build.

It is no coincidence that the root word of personalization is “person.” While technology and sophisticated modeling indeed enhance the customer experience, human interaction is irreplaceable. Human-to-human engagement provides the impetus to drive continuous improvement, adaptability, and evolution. These are the keys to successful brand personalization, and by extension, more personalized marketing.

Brands cannot exist without their customers. Customers have and will always be what drives a brand. But every customer is an individual, with unique wants and needs, which is why personalization is important. However, when personalization misses the mark it can do more hard than good. That’s why personalization without a personal relationship build on trust in not really personalization at all.

Learn More About Building Consumer Trust

¹ From Epsilon’s research titled The power of me: The impact of personalization on marketing performance

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