Liad Agmon, CEO of Dynamic Yield, reminded me of a Top Gun-era Tom Cruise: effortlessly charming, personable, capped off with a big, bright smile. But most noticeable of all was the disarming intensity that is necessary to thrive in a cutthroat startup world. Agmon’s personality is almost the opposite of his company, Dynamic Yield. When you first navigate to the page, the text tells you what computer you’ve logged on from, the weather, and how you were redirected to the page. Impressive, but a little off-putting. There’s personalization, and then there’s stalkerish behavior. I wasn’t sure what to make of Agmon, or Dynamic Yield. But I was intrigued. Maybe there was something lost in translation between man and machine.
When we sat down for the interview, Agmon could hardly contain his excitement: he told me that Dynamic Yield had just been acquired by McDonald’s, a huge feat. He’d accomplished what every vendor dreams of: becoming indispensable to a brand. This piqued my curiosity further. I wanted to know how his product won over one of America’s most enduring and recognizable brands. I guessed that the acquisition was part of McDonald’s strategy to regain momentum after decreased stock performance over the last year. I was right. In an interview, Bob Rupczynski, corporate VP of global media at McDonald’s, told me that he was “incredibly excited about what Dynamic Yield and McDonald’s is going to achieve together — so impressed with the technology and what its already demonstrated. We now have the flexibility to integrate personalization through all of our digital platforms, which will provide a great customer experience to the millions of customers we serve every day.” He also mentioned Dynamic Yield’s vision fit squarely within McDonald’s Velocity Growth Plan.
Personalization is not really a simple, straightforward process. Personalization seems intuitive conceptually, but implementing it in practice is much harder (which probably why I didn’t appreciate being told I was browsing the internet on a Windows 10 machine.) People are complex beings with changing needs that evolve over time. You get married. You have a child. You lose your job. A parent becomes ill. You move. The same way relationships with other humans cycles between closeness and distance, brands and consumers can have a similarly cyclical relationship. When live events occur, a customer may fall through the cracks. With a personalization apparatus that enables a connection between brand and customer that mimics human relationships, it’s easier to prevent customers from falling through the cracks. As the relationship develops over time, it becomes more intuitive in anticipating what the customer wants.
“[We] started in 2012 with the vision that personalization is the optimal way of creating a connection brand and consumer,” said Agmon when I interviewed him. He said he was one of the first to use the term ‘personalization’ as a term of creating different experiences for different customers. By using his background as software developer, Agmon saw the gap between the technical need for a product to change to meet customer needs and a marketer’s desire to make a customer journey more personal. “When we looked at the problem, the problem was a lot of companies didn’t know howt to articulate personalization, but they wanted to create different experiences for different customers, but the content management system they had wasn’t adequate.” WordPress, he explained, was static — it could not be fluid to meet the customer’s needs. By elevating a CMS into a tech stack, Dynamic Yield’s capabilities were able to turn the marketer’s vision of personalization into reality.
When I went to the McDonald’s session later that day at a Gartner conference, it was easier to see this level of personalization in practice. Rupczynski gave an example of harried parents hustling their children to after school activities. McDonald’s noticed that around midafternoon — when school let out — there was a spike in Happy Meal purchases. The data pointed to a trend of parents in such a hurry to feed their children that they forgot about themselves, and were right in the middle of the midday slump. The mere suggestion of adding an iced coffee with the clear subtext — take care of yourself while you are doing the stressful work of raising a child — saw almost immediate results. The message resonated with the parents, and they bought those much needed and well-deserved iced coffees for themselves.
Personalization is the process, and the process is personalization. It’s not possible for a company to dispatch a person to each and every individual customer to meet for coffee, catch up, and be a shoulder to cry on, or a listening ear. But by mimicking the fluidity and dynamism of a human relationship, consumers may gravitate towards a company that “gets” them, as opposed to a brand that merely sends a series of emails in hopes of getting them to click on them.
The lesson in this is clear: it’s not enough to know about your consumers. To stand out from the pack, you must show interest in knowing your customer as a person.