Why Brands Must Move From Communication With Consumers to Conversation

Or risk alienating the very customers they’re trying to woo

Some customers feel burdened when interacting with brands.
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As marketers, we’re increasingly finding ourselves facing an intriguing conundrum when it comes to creating personalized experiences for our customers. In our efforts to drive hyper-personalization, and appeal to every possible consumer need, we’re now at risk of confusing and, even worse, potentially alienating the very customers we’re trying to woo.

Jeriad Zoghby
Illustration: Alex Fine

With more data driving an explosive array of options, many consumers are overwhelmed by too many choices, causing them to be less satisfied, make poor decisions and abandon a website or brand. And this trend is on the rise—according to new research from the 2018 Accenture Interactive Personalization Pulse Report, 45 percent of customers have abandoned a site because it was too overwhelming, up from 40 percent last year.

Rather than being liberated by choice, customers often find themselves burdened when interacting with brands. But there is a solution. By creating an ongoing, two-way digital dialogue, attributes and capabilities across all customer interactions can be used to create a living profile of the most unique aspects of each individual as they evolve in real time. This empowers marketers to understand why customers choose what they do versus simply what they’ve chosen in the past, enabling a better understanding of preferences, needs and passions.

Customers aren’t looking for brands to define their journeys, they want brands to design experiences that help them create their own journeys.

What’s even more exciting is that customers are willing to co-create their profiles with us. In fact, in our study, 75 percent of consumers say they’d find it valuable to create and manage a “style profile” that brands could use to better curate experiences and make recommendations.

Customers recognize that, by contributing to the creation of their profiles, they are helping marketers get to the “why,” which ultimately adds value to them and enhances their brand experiences.

These types of profiles go beyond basic choices such as product categories and communication channels. They capture true preferences. For example, if we were to look at fashion, aspects such as fabrics (satin), styles (peplum), features (cutouts), fit (classic) and brands (Adidas) would be explored to enable a living profile that evolves with the customer and through their interactions with the brand.

The vast majority of consumers, 80 percent, say that no retailer or service provider has ever communicated with them in a way that felt too personalized or invasive. And of the 20 percent who have felt it was too personal or invasive, half reported that they felt uncomfortable because they didn’t knowingly provide the data the brand used. Transparency is key. Just as in personal relationships, trust can be lost when a brand goes outside the relationship to create an advantage.

Companies succeed in these valuable relationships when they focus on making it easier for customers to buy and consume what they want, how and when they want. This is best accomplished through dialogue with customers versus the outdated approach of guessing (also known as predicting) what customers want. It’s similar to a sales rep engaging with customers versus hiding behind the counter trying to guess what they want by watching them shop.

A great example of this is L’Oréal’s Makeup Genius app that allows customers to virtually test makeup. This creates a one-to-one, personalized customer experience that acts like a digital sales associate by identifying the user’s facial characteristics and ensuring a virtual makeup application experience unique to each individual. This also allows L’Oréal to be personally available whenever and wherever its customers are shopping for their products.

This reflects one of the 2018 Fjord Trends findings where physical fights back by using digital to optimize and personalize brick-and-mortar in-store experiences. This will be especially true as companies combine AR capabilities with voice assistants to overlay physical stores with personalized guidance, product information and advice that turns a static consumer retail experience for the masses into a dynamically curated one for each individual.

Customers aren’t looking for brands to define their journeys, but to design experiences that help them create their own journeys.

This fundamental shift away from traditional communications modes to interactive conversations will enable marketers to drive new levels of personalization, trust and, ultimately, more fulfilling experiences.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 29, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.