I spend a lot of my time talking to retailers. And I spend most of that time having really thoughtful conversations about the state of B2C marketing.

One of the topics that seem to come up fairly regularly is around the concept of personalization. There’s a lot of confusion about what it is and what it isn’t. I have to admit that, at first, I didn’t understand where the problem was. It seemed pretty straightforward to me.

But the more I spoke with CEOs and CMOs, the more I realized that even though “personalization solutions” have been around for 10 years, the problem is that the term personalization has changed in the past decade.

Ten years ago if I walked into a store and was given a coupon for something I previously purchased, or was greeted by the same cashier that I saw the day before (and they remembered me) that would be considered exceptional – and personalized, service.

Fast forward to today, with continuously evolving technologies, data access and availability, and the need for mobile at every touch point, marketers do not have it easy. Today’s customer is extremely discerning and the number of combinations and permutations for how they shop, what they shop for, and where they shop continues to grow exponentially, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that brand loyalty across every vertical has been on the decline for years.

In order to remain part of the equation, marketers must consider personalizing EVERY single interaction in order to satisfy their customers. That’s right. Satisfy – nothing more. That’s the table stakes today. Personalization is the expectation of good customer service.

To go above and beyond that – providing a level personalization that blows them away – that is NOT EASY, nor has it even been achieved by many yet.

Let’s step back and look at how many companies are considering personalization these days. Almost without exception, every retailer I’ve spoken with says it is a short- to medium-term  priority. (Full disclosure. I believe if it’s not, it definitely should be). And many believe that they  are already doing it. But here’s the disconnect. And most of those have privately told me that they don’t think they are doing it well.

So what’s the problem? Well, once we started working our way through it, a few common themes emerged. First. It’s that changing definition. 10 years ago, personalization wasn’t really  personalization. It was more closely aligned with segmentation. Personalization in 2009 was  about grouping the same demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioral segments  together for mass campaigns. And that’s largely because of reason #2. That was all that technology could do at that time. (Remember, your kids were probably still being taught cursive at that time and flip phones were cool).

Today, the tools and technology exist to know who I am, what my favorite color is, and my dietary preferences. And this evolution in technology has marketers playing constant catch-up. And that’s probably the biggest issue we see.

Treating customers on an individual basis and creating personalized experiences on a 1:1 level takes planning, careful consideration, and time to ensure it is done correctly. It has to be an organizational focus. I was at a conference recently where someone said “Everyone needs to stop treating personalization as a project and really start thinking of it as a product”. That really resonated with me. It has to be an ongoing initiative with support from the entire company. Personalization has many moving parts and doing it properly means integrating data sources and cleansing current data to make it work.

I get it. It looks scary. It looks overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. The trick is to find the right partner (not just a vendor). Someone who lives and breathes data and starts with your goals BEFORE even thinking about recommending a solution.

And let me tell you, once you do it you’ll be wondering why you didn’t do it sooner. The ability to view each customer as a single user, to connect with them in any channel. To recognize them and reward them for their engagement with your brand. To build that CONNECTION with them. Because loyalty is not about economics (dollars and points). True and long-lasting loyalty is an EMOTION.

Andrew Armstrong

Andrew Armstrong

Chief Customer Officer

Andrew Armstrong is the Chief Customer Officer at omNovos – working globally with customers to design world-class customer engagement programs. He’s a prolific writer and speaker on topics including customer loyalty, personalization, and retail marketing technologies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter - his open approach to all topics usually leads to a fun discussion and a few laughs.