You can’t be friends with everyone. It’s not possible to like everyone, and even if you were very friendly and capable of making friends with everyone who crossed your path, it would be emotionally exhausting. Not to mention the never-ending social calendar: birthday cards, christenings, brises, funerals, retirement parties, graduations, and hospital visits. You could easily spend every waking moment of the rest of your life tending to the social needs of your friends and family (hence the millennia of friction and resentment between young brides and their overbearing mothers in law, now a tired but accurate cliché.)
That expectation hasn’t changed, but it has transferred to the brands that we interact with. Instead of a brand that we merely have a transactional relationship with, brands are now supposed to simultaneously carry on hundreds of thousands or even millions of best friendships with each individual customer. Using a data platform management system, a marketer now has the ability, with the right data, to create an experience for the customer based on the information the customer has already provided. Marketers are becoming less and less the implementers and more and more like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, pulling levers, blowing smoke, and creating a personalized experience that is holistic, convincing, and utterly personal.
That may be closer to being not just the reality for marketers, but the status quo. I spoke with with Sitecore‘s CMO Paige O’Neill a few weeks ago and she walked me through the finer details of her experience with personalization, and why marketers may not quite be hitting the mark.
“We’ve been on the front lines of personalization, certainly from a technology standpoint for the last four or five years at least,” saidO’Neill. “Personalization is really our top technology differentiator. We have a superior approach with helping companies get to personalization with our digital experience platform. So it’s been near and dear to our hearts for many years.” She continued, “Oftentimes, [marketers] are struggling to get beyond a certain point with personalization.” When I asked her about this knowledge gap, O’Neill said “marketers were stuck on how to progress their personalization initiative… We learned that oftentimes when projects were stuck, there was a lack of strategy and alignment between the technology investment behind personalization and what the rest of the C-suite was expecting from a customer experience or a digital transformation standpoint. And so we’ve taken in upon ourselves…to try to articulate the importance of having an aligned strategy that comes from the top and spans the entire C-suite. It’s not just a marketing project when you’re thinking about digital transformation and customer experience.”
Bluegreen Vacations, a national resort chain, echoes the importance of personalization as a crucial component of delivering superior customer service, and their strategy has been integrated across their whole business strategy, not just their marketing department. They’ve been a customer of Sitecore since 2014 and before that, were hemorrhaging precious time and resources. Famous Rhodes, CMO at Bluegreen Vacations, described a nightmarish scenario where customers had to use an analog system to book vacations.
“Our first issue was that a great deal of our vacation package bookings (prospects) were made by phone, which depleted company resources and prevented bookings when the call center was closed. We needed to streamline that process in an efficient and digital-first way.” Sitecore was able to automate the booking experience but added another component that allowed Bluegreen to build a knowledge base about their customers over time. “Sitecore helped us launch a self-service booking website, which removed the limits of the call center: now our customers can book their travels around the clock. The digital presence also allows us to create a better experience for our customers, connecting their interactions from session-to-session and across multiple channels. With each interaction we are also getting to know those customers better.” In the future, Bluegreen Vacations said their aim was to “continue personalizing the customer journey and introducing our customers to new places and adventures, based on what we already know they love.”
In this day and age, the sales and marketing funnels are less vertical and more horizontal, like a bridge. On one side, there is a customer, on the other is their desired experience. Marketers are expected to facilitate the journey with as few pain points as possible. Often, the customer wants to get somewhere (and in the case of Bluegreen, they literally want to get to a particular destination.) As marketers become better and better at managing customer data, they will be able to mark the path more clearly for customers to arrive at their desired destination, whether it be a book or a vacation or a phone.