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Trust, Choice and Relevance: The Foundation of Effective Personalization

Acxiom Last Updated August 6th, 2020
Trust, Choice and Relevance: The Foundation of Effective Personalization

Recently I co-hosted a webinar with Fatemeh Khatibloo from Forrester Research to share some of the challenges marketers face today, framed as the Privacy/Personalization Paradox.  In additional to the very real challenge that marketers face in terms of ensuring their data collection processes and usage is appropriate and managed properly, marketers still must walk the line between what is considered “creepy” and what is considered appealing to consumers.  Make a mistake, and you can become the headline news story that no one wants to be a part of, as I would challenge the “no publicity is bad publicity” mantra on this front!

In the presentation with Fatemeh, I shared a simple visual framework which I believe can help marketers think through what consumers are actually looking for from brands. I’ve dubbed it the Consumer Brand Expectation Pyramid.


It’s helpful to start at the foundational corners of the pyramid: trust & choice.

How do you build trust you ask?  There are many ways, but one example is how Zappos interacts with its customers.  How many times have you started an online shopping experience, only to come to the point of purchase and receive the dreaded “Out of Stock” notification? Zappos does 3 things in combination that help create trust.  First, they let you know before you go through the checkout process that an item is out of stock.  No wasted clicks here.  Then, when the item IS in stock, they send you an email with the item, and make it super easy to purchase from the email.  Finally, and most relevant to the topic at hand, does Zappos bombard you with non-relevant emails, since you already gave them your email address because you were interested in knowing when those shoes became available?  Nope.  Instead, they build trust by focusing on what you were interested in buying in the first place.

Moving on to choice, I’m always surprised by how few companies are using preference centers as a way to engage with consumers.  Or almost even worse, they may have a preference center but the UI looks like a transplant from 1995.  Michael’s is a great example of a company that knows what it’s doing when it comes to engaging interested consumers with a preference center.  It’s graphically articulate, easy to navigate, and mobile friendly.  What’s better than actually giving a consumer a chance to tell you what they are interested in, how they prefer to communicate and in some cases even what time to reach them?  Of course, providing choice is another great way to build trust, so you can begin to see the interplay between the  corners of the pyramid.

Finally, we get to relevance.  It’s probably the easiest one to think about, as much of it has been powered by data, analytics, and technology platforms like recommendation engines.  While great strides have been made in terms of the ability to provide more targeted offers to specific consumers, the industry is only just now beginning to fully utilize the benefits of integrating online and offline data.  Even today, too large of a percentage of digital media ranges from completely untargeted to using only online data to determine who to target with what offers.  To be clear, the blame does not fall completely on the marketer,  until recently tools to do this easily and at scale haven’t been available.  Know-how of both the online and offline data worlds, which I affectionately call “speaking both languages,” is still catching up with technology.  Technology and the skills required are changing rapidly, creating significant new opportunities to increase the relevancy to consumers.

So, the key question: What can you do to ensure your pyramid is working to your advantage? 

Here are a few ideas:

Trust – For the free thinkers out there, I recommend an enterprise-wide exercise evaluating how your brand engages with consumers predicated on  an honest dialogue about what you are doing that both  builds and diminishes trust.  An extreme focus on trust is the key to this exercise, being careful a not to get distracted by other topics.  For those looking for a more structured approach, I would recommend the Blue Ocean Framework, which asks a brand to  identify what activities you want to Raise, Reduce, Create, and Eliminate to  build greater trust.

Choice – This one is simple.  Get in the preference center game!  There are many great examples out there, so check them out.  Three main things to focus on are keeping the experience graphically articulate, easy to navigate, and mobile friendly.

Relevance – As mentioned earlier, most firms have at least something to build on applying data & analytics to drive a next best offer, but I would recommend 2 additional focus areas.  First, take a hard look at how you are delivering relevance in terms of the other points of the pyramid.  Some key questions might be:

Are your relevance efforts building trust? Neutral?  Negative?

Are you capturing preferences and listening to what consumers are actually telling you and modifying your recommendations based upon those?

Second, if you don’t have a clear way to integrate online and offline data today, it should be receiving focus……immediately.  Technology makes doing this relatively easy, and investing time to develop  the know-how to “speak both languages” will lead to more effective targeting.  Just as important, if all 3 “corners” are working effectively, you will also build a stronger perception of your brand and improve customer lifetime value.

Stay tuned for my next blog, where I will provide recommendations for improving customer lifetime value.