Article

Jason Smith
Jason Smith 8 September 2023

Personalisation Sits at the Heart of SMB Success. What Are You Waiting For?

For Small to Medium Sized Businesses (SMBs) and growing brands, personalising communications with customers should start on day one, not months or years later.

The ability to personalise is often seen as something that companies must earn after a period of implementing next-generation technology to replace what they started out with – or as the preserve of larger, enterprise-level business. But both of these premises are not true and it is certainly no longer advisable.

The Impact of Online Competition and Inflation

Competition for brands in most sectors has reached fever pitch as a result of the sheer number of players operating online. The growing number of channels they can sell through that have almost no barriers to entry, and the fact that the customer wallet is under attack from rising costs as a result of inflation.

Fast-growing companies will often respond by saying that they have even less money to spend on marketing and certainly not the big bucks often thought to be needed to invest in the technology as well as trained people to run them, allowing them to compete with the larger players.

The Pitfalls of CRM and Email

The most tempting response to this almighty clash of market crises is for companies to fall back on what they know best, to hit the existing CRM system, which may have a ton of data but no insight, as hard as possible and up the email send rate. 

In fact, even companies with advanced software will do the same thing, thinking that at least there is activity and there is bound to be some success. However, competition has more or less killed the KPIs that back in the day used to deliver because there were fewer players and fewer channels. 

Proof that this is a common problem comes from original research of 1,000 shoppers by MoEngage in its Personalisation Pulse Check report shows that over a quarter (28%) of consumers received irrelevant, un-personalised content from retailers, while a further 27% complained of receiving inconsistent cross-channel communications from brands in their buying journeys.

Further MoEngage research shows that a quarter (24%) of companies still only use basic customer data, such as name or location, to inform personalisation, while just 22% use behaviour-based data, such as recency, frequency, and monetary value of purchases, in their personalisation strategies.

Why Early Insights Close the Customer Acquisition Chasm

The problem can sometimes be that, as they say, the tail is wagging the dog; the drive to sell, to market and to try and get more out of existing systems can hide the obvious fact that so much can be done with what is already in place, one of the key themes of our recent Strategy Session webinar, in which I spoke to retailers and brands including Xcoins and HoppyGo on why SMBs need to invest in the right insights to succeed.

First of all, the webinar discussed why customer acquisition should not end with a huge gap while everyone waits for them to buy and then works out how to sell to them again. 

As HoppyGo’s User activation specialist, Katerina Dobesova, put it - this should begin right at the beginning of the customer journey. Behavioural analysis should begin on day one, first to find patterns and to analyse data volumes but much earlier to look for insight based on qualitative data, which is much more about preferences. 

Otherwise, companies run the risk of tracking the wrong signals, which generate a tonne of data but no ‘insight’, which is not useful to anyone.

Naturally, this early in the journey, growing companies may not know much about their customers, but they will know something and they should use that to start the conversation, which will generate some further engagement or responses from some customers that will add richness to their basic shopper profiles.

The imperative for this approach may well be urgent. Opportunities are lost if the purchase intent is immediate but the company is not quick to respond by narrowing the gap between acquisition and insight.

Obsess Over Customer Data to Align Engagement in Real Time

Checking in on the data should become an obsession, and this is what it means when companies talk about themselves as customer-centric. And, as Xcoin’s Josianne Micallef, outlined on our webinar, this requires SMBs to ‘keep checking in’ with customers to use data to align engagement strategies with shopper needs and demands. 

Holistic, one-platform solutions, which pull data sources in from marketing activities and the wider retail operations and channels, can streamline the time taken to generate value-driving insight, rather than battling to get the same effect from disparate systems. This means more insight, delivered more quickly to enhance performance.

And to recognise that behaviours can change over time. Putting customers into segments based on previous activity can be dangerous because the assumptions made about what they will do next are not tested. 

A simple example of this is, if a customer buys a product that is designed to last 5 or 10 years, then they are not in the market for that original product for some time; their focus changes to things like maintenance, add-ons, related products and so on. 

And the way they buy may also change at the same time; they search with less intent or start using more passive channels such as Pinterest. However, all this behaviour is valuable data that can be used to determine the next best action.

Smarter, Not Busier: Repurposing Content for Personalised Expertise

For companies with limited budgets or smaller, more agile team set-ups, there are a few neat tricks that can move the dial significantly. One is to lead on content, be a thought leader by adding value for customers, but rather than think this needs a continuous flow of brand new content, actually it is more effective to repurpose. 

This is not about being a thought leader on everything but about becoming well-known for expertise in particular challenges that customers may be struggling with.

That said, it is important to match content and outreach to persona types. Sophisticated customers hate being preached to on a topic they are already experts in. This is not easy to get right but it goes back to the original advice, to analyse data early and get insights into customers that will enable personalised communications.

The beauty of this approach is that it delivers more meaningful KPIs and helps marketing teams determine which activities will give the highest return; this is about being smart rather than busy as it is common for teams to feel that they can never catch up to themselves because there is always too much going on. 

And remember that each tool measures differently so the only way to get that holistic view is always to see things from the customer’s point of view.

Accelerating Personalisation Through Automated Customer Insights

No one is suggesting that personalisation is easy or that the next part of the journey will be any the less complex. 

However, the consumers’ accelerated and increasingly digital demands are outpacing that innovation curve at present. 

More automation will be required so companies can catch up, ideally through a single platform that enables customer centricity, embracing customer insights and analytics, customer journey orchestration, website personalisation, omnichannel communications, optimisation powered by AI and real-time alerts.

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