Embrace the cult of the individual

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The term “one size fits all” is quickly becoming a turn off for consumers in a world where data availability is personalizing our every experience. It’s the old corner café mantra “know each of your customers by name”, but in operation for big business. Where before businesses with large customer numbers may not have had the ability to really interact with their customers on a personal level it now becomes possible wherever they can collect and process great data.

Many businesses today are struggling with a step change in how they appeal to their customers, moving from broadcasting, i.e. getting your message to as many people as possible with a single solution/offer; to narrowcasting, or communicating to each customer based on their values, preferences and demographics. The consumer of today is starting to expect relevance to his or her individual situation, and the collection and analysis of customer data is the key to delivering this.

In a recent interview* the Managing Director of Dymocks Bookstores, Steve Cox, outlines how Dymocks used to send broad-brush emails to their database. No doubt expecting to garner loyalty by communicating with their customers, and thereby translate that into impulse and long-term sales. However, in a market where e-books is having an impact on traditional book sales Cox realized that maintaining relevance to his customers meant offering a more personalized experience, “We’ve done a lot of work in the last six to eight months on customer data and understanding the lifecycle of our customers, understanding the purchase behaviors of our customers and being able to use that information to make sure that our stores have the relevant offer for that customer.”

Data is changing consumer expectations at pace. Even a relatively mundane purchase like car insurance can now be tailored to your individual lifestyle patterns, thanks to insurance companies better understanding how we operate as an individual. Catch the bus to work during the week? You can now get cheaper car insurance than a daily car commuter because your risk of a claim is lower. Insurance companies are asking better questions, gathering better data, and using that to offer a wider variety of options to their customers.

The product options available to us as consumers continue to expand and splice as data enables more detailed product offers. We used to buy pain relief tablets to fix pain wherever it occurred in your body. Now its possible to have individual pain products for each bodily ailment, be it headache OR back pain OR period pain (whether or not there’s any difference in the products is another discussion). Before long the data may be good enough that we can ask for individual pain pills based on our age, weight, medical history and DNA. After all, each of us is biologically a whole different individual, so who’s to say what works best for you will work best for me.

The speed and depth of data collection has taken narrowcasting for businesses to a new level. However, the speed and availability of data also cuts both ways, allowing consumers to very rapidly make informed purchase decisions and know what options are available to them. Consumers are also learning to use data to make business work smarter and keep them honest.

The message for all businesses is clear. Improve your access to, and analysis of, customer data. Use reliable data metrics as a driving tool in your business so you can understand your customers better, keep your products and information relevant, and strengthen your customer relationship. Embrace the cult of the individual to stay ahead of the game.

*SMH, 15th June, 2013

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