By Ted Rubin
Personalization is the new black. The marketing and selling story of today involves knowing and seeing your customer the moment they arrive on your physical or virtual doorstep, and being able to provide differentiated service based on their preferences, history and loyalty. Knowing who they are, listening to what they have to say, and speaking to them via those they trust, not a brand mouthpiece.
This isn’t a new idea. Looking back before World War II, most business was done in a personalized way. Stores were small and knew their customers on sight. They knew customers’ preferences and in many cases, could predict exactly what offers and information would entice their customers to buy. Their business grew via customer satisfaction and word of mouth—relationships.
This pattern changed with the arrival of the mass-market suburb after the war. Communities were no longer necessarily based around a Main Street shopping district and instead, we built shopping centers connected by carefully planned avenues and freeways. Home was no longer known as a particular town or village. Driving further was a way to find discounts and choice, and loyalty to a local retailer or brand was broken. Broken not just because of the availability of discounts, but because smaller local merchants could no longer afford to build relationships and compete with the discounted race to the bottom.
The same pattern led to the rise of Madison Avenue, featured as the backdrop for the Mad Men television show with its clever tag line, the focus group, and the advertising buy on newsprint, radio and television. The entire industries built around these patterns are today crumbling in the face of changing technology and a changing consumer… and the democratization of content where the Age of Influence had empowered anyone to build an audience and affect change, advocate brands, build relationships and make a difference. If you believe the past repeats itself, you’re right, as we’re coming full circle in how we personalize engagement with consumers.
Retailers have stark choices to make and those leading the pack are already putting their focus on the technology to follow the new, personalized way of engaging and enlisting the content creation skills of influencers and users to share their stories with those who value what they have to say.
Rediscovering the customer
The new pattern of engagement bears striking resemblance to the grocery of 1900, but in some ways, it is better. The reach of a retailer is global, 24×7, and has a perfect memory for preferences and past transactions, and the ability to create relevant emotionally connected content at scale. The new retailer can manage a virtually unlimited number of conversations in exactly the same moment and offer something completely customized, individualized and relevant, in a voice appreciated and valued by their consumers.
This is the corner grocer’s personal touch with far greater differentiation, choice, flexibility, channels, convenience, content, and ultimately, value. We’ve come full circle, but to an even better place.
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