Let’s get personal

Written by Dola Fashola

Elmo knows where you liveWhen you first get to know someone, how personal do you get?  Do you start referring to them by their nick name? Do you reveal the extent of your social media stalking? The fact you know what they ate this weekend, who they ate it with or the snapchat filter they like best? Can you reveal that you’ve already deduced their age by looking at the dates of education and employment on their LinkedIn Profile? Do you get personal quickly enough to feel comfortable asking them how their grandmothers birthday party turned out, because you caught them at the ‘Grandma’s’ aisle when they posted that Instagram selfie in Clinton Cards?

You don’t do this right? Because it’s creepy and intrusive? So why are we expecting this from brands and organisations when it comes to online experiences?

In a society of time poor, multi-tasking individuals, shortcuts are sought to make purchase and consumption as frictionless and easy as possible. Think Apple Pay, contactless cards, Spotify, Netflix and love/hate predictive text and autocorrects! Whether it’s as simple as contactless payment methods removing the need for cash, or automated shopping baskets based on regular purchases, consumers are relying on organisations they purchase from to know them and be intelligent enough to predict things that will help speed up their purchases.

To compound this, recent waves of personalisation are being driven by big data, the large amounts of information that we can gain about individuals from activity generated online and even offline. Analysis of this data helps identify common patterns in behaviours that organisations and brands use to serve customers with tailored content, with the ultimate aim of driving conversion. After all, if I know you’re the type to preorder the iPhone, I have your payment method pre filled, can recommend the type of plan you need based on your phone usage, what’s holding you back? You’re going to preorder it anyway, but I’ve just made it 85% easier for you.

However, sometimes organisations get it wrong. There’s a growing trend to sometimes get too personal or to connect dots about customers, that have little relevance or value to their ultimate goal, all because a couple of consultants told us:

“You need to personalise your customer experience interactions at every touch point. You need to cross reference data points to create a full picture of your customers past transactions and preferences, so you can use this data to show you truly know who they are and can meet their future needs.”
When that means things start to get as creepy it begs the question on whether we are allowing the “digital” customer experience get too personal and therefore lead to a bad customer experience.

I believe there are levels of expectations when it comes to personalisation and it’s increasingly difficult to get right. I’ll describe this going forward on a 3 point scale of identification, intimacy & intrusive. The litmus test for where an organisation sits on the scale is based on the criteria:

  • Is the personalisation based on information I’ve shared or information that can easily be gathered based on past purchase and past behaviour?
  • Does it make my life/purchase/consumption options easier?
  • Is it based on information available in the public domain — with or without my knowledge or consent?.
  • Has the data been gathered from multiple sources to build a picture or form a judgement which may or may not be true?


3 dimensions of personalisation
3 dimensions of personalisation


This is the realm of basic, get it right, simple stuff. If you ain’t got this right, go home, pack it in or restart. So, get the customers name right, remember login preferences, allow customers to use biometrics to access their accounts, create personalised greetings etc. The extreme end of this scale is probably Atom bank, who allow personalisation of their logo and offer personalised colour pallettes to customers to drive their visual experience.  However in general, it’s taking the most basic information that a user has already provided and using it to present a confirmation that you remember them, recognise them and are welcoming them back.

2. Intimacy

Intimacy is about offering special and personal touches that connects with the customer or user so they begin to feel valued, in turn nurturing a sense of loyalty.  Intimacy has two levels in it’s use of data for personalisation: –

  • Using data that’s available or has been requested by consent to improve experiences of existing journeys
  • Using data to connect on a emotional level with a customer ie the difference between receiving a personalised message wishing you a happy birthday from Louis Vuitton vs. receiving a personalised messages offering you a birthday discount from Louis Vuitton.

Example 1: British Airways

British Airways had a board in Piccadilly London, which featured a boy asking pedestrians to look up as actual flights flew by. When this happened, it displayed the flight number and destination of the aircraft, by using the technlology to read a plane’s location, speed and altitude.  

British Airways

Example 2: Ocean Medallion™

The Ocean Medallion™ is a wearable device provided free to each guest on board Princess Cruises. The device contains no personal information but uses biometrics along with the passengers name and cruise date. It gives guests the ability to locate family and friends on the cruise ships as well as unlock their room. What makes the personalisation experience worthy of the intimacy level, is that it offers guests a true personalised experience based on their behaviours and interests.  Sensors within the device constantly record movement and use a personal profile completed by each guest prior to the trip that captures their preferences for food, activities and lifestyle. This data is then used by the device to offer suggestions to guests on menus, activities and entertainment when aboard the cruise ship.B.B.

Image result for princess cruises ocean medallion
The Ocean Medallion wearble device

3. Intrusive

The Ocean Medallion example above edges on the realm of Intrusive. The technology it uses tracks guest’s every move, and may lead to potential privacy concerns. However, experts will tell you it is similar to other technology such as Uber, which collects passenger information but then use it to improve the experience, not necessarily the company.

My own definition of Intrusive personalisation is when data is being gathered from difference sources to form a judgement about a user which may or may not be true. According to a White Paper by Experian (Personalisation in marketing – where’s the line between ‘cool’ and ‘creepy’?), customers will find it unacceptable if personalisation is not relevant to them or is from a company they have not recently interacted with.

A former colleague of mine wrote to me saying she had gone to a demo given by one of their tech vendors a couple of weeks back.  At this demo the vendor proudly showed off some technology they were working on that would allow a well known supermarket to send automated texts following a purchase. It read “hi Wendy, hope the party went well!” Why you ask? Well because Wendy had ordered a bottles of wine and dips….horrific. Great execution, but possibly a bad idea, especially if it turns out that Wendy was drowning her sorrows after a bad break up at said party.

In summary, this is an area to watch over the coming months.  Earning and retaining digital trust is going to beocome the biggest differentiator to getting this right. The organisations and brands that are going to win in this area are those that will be open and transparent with customers and users.  GDPR regulation may give the initial push, but the elevation required is what the key winners are going to be the ones to define. One clue is they are likely to be the ones enabling customers to see data that is held about them without them having to ask.  The introduction of GDPR regulation, which will govern how companies use personal online data, in combination with Open Banking, where third party companies will be able to build on APIs to connect mobile and web applications to customers banking data makes this an area to watch. This may make the lines between intimacy and intrusion that more blurred, not to mention if you throw the increasing use of AI into the mix.

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