This is the first of a four-part series on the North Star goals that set category leaders apart from their peers.
As marketers, we must constantly balance the ideal with the practical and achievable. This comes amid a flood of competing priorities, including:
- Demands for short-term financial results from shareholders.
- Leaders needing to achieve business objectives.
- Customers demanding the best possible experience.
- The competition catching up or pulling ahead.
- All the chatter from our own community about the latest and greatest technology and how quickly every brand has to adopt the newest three-letter marketing acronym.
Because of all this, it is easy to lose sight of the long-term goals that will help us achieve continued success and build loyal, lifetime customers.
I use the term “North Star” goals to mean those ideal points we should be navigating toward, even if they feel unreachable at the moment. Just like the North Star guided travelers throughout history, these marketing goals will guide today’s marketing leaders toward the optimal way of providing the customer experience of the future.
As an advisor and consultant to marketing leaders at top brands, I have seen four overall trends that set category leaders apart from their peers. I took these four trends and turned them into a set of North Star goals that I also explore further in my latest book, “House of the Customer.“
This four-part article series will explore each of the trends and goals in depth, including what they are, how realistic the goals are for most brands and the first steps you can take to achieve them.
In this first article in the series, I will explore the first North Star goal — providing a one-to-one, omnichannel personalized experience.
Let’s explore this by breaking down each of the three parts of this goal and then we’ll tie it all together and explore just how realistic this is for most brands today.
Breaking it down
To start this discussion of one-to-one, omnichannel personalization, let’s make sure we have a good understanding and example of each component.
The first part of our goal means thinking beyond broader audience segments and treating each customer individually. While they may share behaviors and traits with other customers, what we do for them factors in.
For instance, if you are doing personalization broadly, it is based on some type of segmentation, like sending an email to all customers who bought a product within the last 10 days. While tailored to the recipients, the message doesn’t consider any specifics beyond the date of purchase.
Simply saying “Hello Greg” in an email to me is what I refer to as a simple substitution, one slight step above saying “Hello Customer.”
Sending a truly personalized email message means using the information you already have about me, such as the type of product or service I recently purchased or reviewed.
If I’m a frequent customer and you haven’t heard from me lately, send a reminder that it’s time for me to buy again. Or if I rarely ever engage over email but am responsive via SMS, take that into account.
In other words, give me something beyond a generic message that could apply to anyone based on what you know about me and what I might want to see.
Brands that can deliver meaningful personalized content, offers or experiences on a channel like a website, mobile app or even in an in-person environment are likely to make a great impression, if not a sale.
But today’s consumers don’t use a single channel or method when researching, purchasing and using our products or services. Thus, brands must ideally provide seamless and consistent experiences across all channels — or omnichannel.
Doing omnichannel well involves consistent messaging and visuals across channels. More importantly, customer data is carried across and utilized to tailor content, offers and experiences in both digital and offline worlds.
How realistic is this for most marketers?
You might think all this sounds great, but how realistic is it to implement an ideal one-to-one, omnichannel personalized experience for customers?
Anyone working on an effort like this can attest that it is still a lofty goal, even for many sophisticated organizations. Let’s discuss hurdles that often get in the way of achieving this.
Data and platform silos
Let’s start with the technical part first. Access to customer data, access to platforms or even one platform’s access to another are common challenges for large and small organizations.
Such issues prevent us from connecting the dots both for ourselves as marketers and for customers and the experiences they can receive.
Dig deeper: How to overcome data silos and fragmentation
Similar enough to the data and platform silos, bureaucracy or lack of communication and planning channels may get in the way as well.
For instance, how are you supposed to create an omnichannel experience when the website team, the email team and the advertising team aren’t able to coordinate their efforts?
Cost versus benefit
Finally, when looking at how realistic this might be, you need to consider costs versus benefits.
While we’ve read statistics on how consumers are more likely to buy based on personalized experiences, you must determine how to incrementally move toward this one-to-one omnichannel approach while making smart investments over time.
After all, there might be major benefits from specific improvements, while others may have no effect. Taking a test-and-learn, iterative approach can benefit your business greatly here.
How do I get started?
While we just went through a few reasons why this goal may not be immediately achievable, rest assured that there is hope.
The good news is that while “one-to-one” and “omnichannel” may be the goals, you can start incrementally and work your way toward them. Let’s discuss a few ways to do this.
Start with segments instead of one-to-one
One-to-one personalization is our goal, but we often need to start somewhere. This means that we can start with audience segmentation.
You’re almost certainly segmenting your users in some ways already. So rather than focusing on broad categories, create additional types of segments or more detailed ones based on behavioral and other data-driven factors. Getting more granular with your segments can be a good bridge to a one-to-one personalization approach.
Build from a single channel to multi-channel
While omnichannel sounds great, it’s not easy even for organizations with more resources. Large organizations have more extensive requirements due to working in multiple countries and languages, and often with more third parties such as platforms and distribution partners.
Because of this, the best approach is to build from single, disconnected channels to a multi-channel approach. Add a channel at a time to a seamless experience and allow your brand the ability to focus on optimizing one channel at a time.
Avoid trying to tackle everything at once, which might indefinitely delay your efforts while trying to solve the data, platform and organizational hurdles discussed earlier.
Build bridges with your partner teams
Just like connecting the dots between data and platforms, building connections with the other teams in your organization is vital. You will need allies to move toward a one-to-one, omnichannel personalization approach.
If you are in marketing, make sure you know who your key allies on data and technology teams are. Have conversations about what your North Star goal is and involve them in the solution from the very beginning.
Start with a proof of concept
Finally, you may be in a situation where you can’t simply convert all audiences, or even the entirety of a single channel to use a personalized approach.
If your brand has multiple, distinct audiences and many product categories and lines, it may make more sense to use an iterative approach where you start with an audience segment or product type.
- If your company sells both consumer and business products, each with various different needs, you might decide to start with your consumer audience.
- If you sell both computers and headphones, you might start with your audience for headphones.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t get to all of them eventually,
Start with a proof of concept such as, “We will personalize our experience for consumer headphone customers across three channels.” Doing so allows you to get the data and learn about internal difficulties in setting up the initiative, all while achieving a focused goal in a reasonable amount of time and money.
The path to one-to-one, omnichannel personalization
One-to-one omnichannel personalization may not be attainable for your organization immediately. But by building a consistent experience one channel, platform and audience at a time, you can work towards that goal and make consistent progress doing so.
In the next article in this four-part series, I will discuss the importance of a first-party data strategy, our second North Star goal.
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