There’s a metaphor I like to use about public washrooms. Have you ever been in a public washroom where the toilet flushes automatically, the soap dispenses automatically, and the water turns on and off automatically, but then the drier is manual, and it seems really jarring and weird because you stick your hands under it expecting it to be automatic too and then nothing happens? That’s what’s going to happen to digital customer experiences and marketing best practices.
Let me elaborate.
Say it’s around the second week of December. I’m working on doing my Christmas shopping still, like many people are at this time of year. I open up an email from a large bookstore chain that I happen to have a loyalty card with – one of the few I actually use and carry around with me, and tolerate the promotional emails from. In the email is an offer that says “Got friends around the world? Check out with this coupon and we’ll ship to three different locations for free when you spend more than $100!”
For me, I’d be thinking: “Holy smokes, that’s perfect!! I have lots of friends around the world! I would love to be able to ship to three different places in one purchase! That’s so convenient!”
That might not be something that would excite you, but that’s why (although I’m not aware of it) I got this email and you didn’t. It’s tailored specifically to me because they know this is an extremely relevant offer that will motivate me to make a large purchase.
So I click to get the coupon and it takes me to a “gift suggestion” page. And somehow, it’s only showing me gifts and books that my friends and my family would like. It’s got science humour books, nerdy video game related books, and even suggests a book with big glossy pictures of cars for the two people on my list of ten loved ones that really dig cars. Me personally, I don’t like cars that much – but this isn’t a list tailored to me anymore, it’s tailored to the people I most care about and would likely spend more money on a gift for.
So here I am, sitting at my computer and thinking “WOW that is perfect for this person I care about, this one here is perfect for THAT person I care about, look at this I’m going to get all my shopping done in one afternoon,” and before I know it I have $250 of things in my basket.
It’s like a next-best-offer section, but super intelligently suggested.
How do they do that? They match my customer profile to my social media profiles, and they not only profile me, but they determine which of my friends I pay the most attention to and then they profile those friends. My activity and relationships on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other websites will all tell them who I most value of my friends. They can then match those friends of mine to their own internal customer records and provide me with the “next best offer” that would most apply to my friends based on their purchase history, without actually revealing that purchase history to me. If they don’t have a customer profile with the bookstore, they still have lots of data about their likes and interests from their social profiles that build a comprehensive idea of what kinds of books and other items they’d enjoy as gifts.
Now, this is the point that you think “That sounds kind of creepy.”
Yes! Extremely creepy!
But useful to the consumer.
Which is why you would label the suggestions “What’s hot right now!” The shopper can only assume the rest of the world has the same taste as all their friends, which isn’t that big of a stretch if they have a wide variety of relationships with a wide variety of people. By knowing when to make the personalization obvious and when to be more subtle about it, you reduce the chance of making your customers uncomfortable.
Ultimately, the consumer benefits because they get all the stuff they want and they don’t have to wade through products that are irrelevant to them, and the coupons or incentives they’re offered are always relevant or useful. It’s about making life easier for people. “If you could use magic to make shopping better in ways you don’t believe are actually possible, what would you change / improve?”
Now of course, it’s arguable that improving your marketing relevance is less about making it easier for people and more about making it easier to target consumers to spend more money. It really ought to be both, ideally. When the consumer benefits, the seller benefits – the idea being that if you give people a better experience, they reward you with loyalty.
So yes, your end goal is money – you are a business – but at the same time, you differentiate yourself from other businesses by recognizing that every person is unique, and giving them “special treatment” by using technology capable of instantly customizing the experience.
Eventually the majority of companies will be capable of never, ever sending you something that is irrelevant to you. And then when that does happen, your reaction is likely to be, “Wow company, get it together.” To return to the bathroom metaphor, you’ve gone from three automated interactions to one unexpectedly manual one. Before, you’d never have thought about the dissonance, because you’d never been given a different experience. But once the ball gets rolling and you’ve gotten used to it, the experiences you thought of as normal will be bizarrely outmoded and stand out.
So the next time you’re pushing through a crowded mall or clicking through an online catalog trying to figure out what the heck to get for the people on your Christmas list, stop to imagine a better world in which the retailer has suggestions for you that are genuinely helpful and designed for you and the people you want to see smile this holiday season.
Big Data technology is actually making this kind of automated and sophisticated microsegmentation possible. Maybe you’ll even see it in action this time next year.