By Matt Pigott - February 14th, 2017

Third in a four-part series on personalization in 2017

Going deeper into the data

Google DeepMind’s Alpha Go program, which beat the South Korean master in the board game back in 2015 marked the start of the new trend toward the type of deep learning that will inevitably influence and shape how brands interact with their customers. The point being, the machine was learning, and building upon that learning with new learning. This tech transposed to new markets will be the thing to watch out for.

AI is already filtering into mainstream life in the form of virtual assistants, with voiced questions rapidly replacing queries typed into browsers. While it’s still early days for Amazon Echo, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant, their machine learning capabilities are improving daily. And real time requests for products and services, such as Uber, are already possible. As devices become more connected, with humans, with each other through the Internet of Things, and as they become more intuitive, the personalization paradigm will move beyond the mobile device and into the home space to facilitate daily life. Brands that miss out on this inevitable sea change will undoubtedly lose out to those that adapt and integrate.

Virtual assistance becoming the norm

According to recent research by Hubspot, 19% of people use Siri daily. In addition, 37% use Siri, 23% use Microsoft’s Cortana, and 19% use Amazon’s Echo monthly. According to the same research, this is a trend that has emerged only during the last year.

Being able to pay the bills, set up music playlists, order takeaways, and check the weather, among other things, all in a frictionless environment, means that virtual assistants are upping the personalization stakes in a big way—and it’s only the beginning. Brands that know this are moving fast and include Domino’s Pizza, Uber, Spotify and Capital One. With voice requests set to bypass and possibly overtake typed queries, the possibilities for companies wanting to reach deeper into their customers’ lives are compelling new changes that will have real impact on ordinary lives.  

Netflix and Spotify - perfecting the art of recommendation

Netflix recognized that different people watching movies on its platform might have different tastes and so introduced a multiple user facility, personalizing film and program selections for individual family members that use the same account. Similarly, Spotify compiles playlists based on user preferences. By taking historic viewing and listening histories and making useful recommendations to customers, both companies have found new ways to leverage their data, without being intrusive. In addition to making recommendations, Spotify recently began providing personalized daily mixes of music for customers, segmented according to genre, based on their existing playlists. Nice touches such as help to keep customers loyal, and are exceptional tools of retention.

Other companies in non-entertainment verticals are also beginning to cotton on to the power of these recommendation algorithms, hinting that quite soon they are likely to become standard features rather than the preserve of a few early adopters.

The trouble with tech

Which begs the question, why aren’t more marketers getting down and dirty with personalization across the board? In a nutshell, it’s a tech problem. That which solves for many also, it seems, impedes.

In a recent study from Demand Metric and Seismic, more than half of marketers surveyed cited said that lack of technology was holding them back. Getting the right tech stack in place, getting buy in from the CFO to make the investment, and having the right team in place to know precisely how to integrate the software range to get the desired results are all obstacles that mean this will continue to be one of the biggest challenges for CMOs moving into 2017 and beyond.


That said, it isn’t something that should be sidelined or ignored because it’s difficult to do. Getting the right systems in place to fuel personalization is vitally important; for sales, for retention, for ongoing customer relationships. But above all, it’s important as a tool to help brands cut through the growing noise to reach their target audiences.

A noise annoys - are brands the source of personalization problems?

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes many brands still make is dumping a surfeit of information on their customers. This is the antithesis of selectivity and the epitomisation of arrogance. To assume that customers love a company so much that they want to receive six emails a week, for example, isn’t indicative of a company that cares, but of one that isn’t listening, and therefore probably doesn’t care.

Bombardment is the true enemy of personalization. The former is tantamount to a brand shouting while the latter, done right, shows that it is sensitive enough to consider the world from a customer’s point of view. The idea of customer-centricity as a opposed to brand-centricity has become the central tenet of both the idea and the execution of true personalization. But to get the balance right between too much communication and too little, and to provide the right type of information based on precise segmentation, marketing executives must attune their ears better than their competitors, and listen out for two types of distinct voice — the collective and the individual.


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