Are you Marketing to Me?! Personalization at Scale

How can we create an irreplaceable role for our brand in consumers’ lives with personalized marketing?

This week I told a colleague I was writing a piece about “mass personalization,” and she remarked that the term sounds like a “total oxymoron.” 

She wasn’t wrong! A personal experience with a brand is centered around a feeling of customization, intimacy, and trust. This is a sentiment you’d usually expect from a small, familiar operation.  

But chances are – since you’re reading this – your customer base spans beyond that of a Dickensian farmer’s market town, so you’ll likely be asking yourself, how do we make customers feel as though we are listening to them on a personal level? And how can our marketing campaigns reflect this? 

“Ever since I first got into marketing 20+ years ago…” Pete Markey, Chief Marketing Officer of Boots shares at a GDS Group CMO Summit, “I’ve dreamed of being able to connect with people individually: A message, an offer, a piece of communication that is timely and relevant… at exactly the right moment.” 

Markey’s excitement at the changing landscape of personalized digital marketing is matched by the scale of the task at hand for his organization; with almost half of all beauty products in the UK now being purchased at Boots.  

And against the backdrop of COVID – which saw 78% of customers say that they expected companies to use the crises in 2020 as a catalyst for improvement Markey acknowledges that “historic brand love” for a 170-year-old business would not suffice in retaining a customer’s unwavering loyalty.  

What really matters is how relevant you are in people’s lives.”
-Pete Markey, Chief Marketing Officer of Boots 

Salesforce’s findings support Markey’s perspective, as they reported 66% of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations, yet 66% say they’re generally treated like numbers. 

So how has Boots navigated this? What tools are they using? What is working?  

In his keynote presentation, Markey includes a four-step plan that of course, places the most important four-letter word at the helm: data.  

In 4 Steps: Showing ‘Our Role’ in People’s Lives 

During the pandemic, Boots’ campaign centers around “Prescribed Kindness,” which is brought to life using data as follows: 

1. Strategic Intent 

Establishing “what the customer is looking for from us” in the landscape of a pandemic. This involves an attitudinal shift since customers’ expectations and needs from Boots changed dramatically, almost overnight.
Markey notes that customers display a clear desire to find the “best advice and support”  in a climate of unknown.  

2. Leaning In to different personal groups  

Analyzing and identifying different clusters of consumers, and asking both:  

  • What would different groups of people be looking for from us?  
  • How do their wants differ between groups?

3. Insight 

Using search intent data, social-listening, and consumer behavior analysis to dig into what customers want, need, and what matters to them most.  (YouGov, Kantar and Statista play key roles in Boots’ analysis.) 

4. Content Plan 

Finally, from the findings of stages 1-3, a flexible content plan can be created. Boots was able to use their knowledge of what different groups were looking for in their asset delivery.  

Markey refers to a case study which underpinned the learning that customers, against the backdrop of COVID, were looking for the best advice and support:
Boots rolls out their “Question of the Day” content, where the organization’s Chief Pharmacist would answer questions built around social listening and search intent data. To personalize the experience, Boots built different edits for different audience groups.  

Markey shares that their Instagram view through rate (VTR) reached 17% versus the benchmark of 7.2%.  

In the same vein, Boots emails switched from selling to offering advice and support, resulting in an open rate increase of 75%. 

Proceed With Caution  

It’s undeniable, personalization is the new marketing strategist’s bread and butter. Harnessed with care, it drives groundbreaking results. Smarter HQ found that  72% of consumers say they only engage with personalized messaging and Accenture found that 83% of consumers are willing to share their data to create a more a personalized experience. 

But, to paraphrase Spiderman – with mass personalization, comes great responsibility. 

Get it wrong, and consumers are quick to snap.  

As we set out on our personalization strategies, the stakes are high: Get it right and you create an intimate experience where a customer feels listened to, and your brand carves a unique role in their lives.  

Get it wrong and you may get blocked on Instagram. 

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