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Retail marketing yields its fair share of buzzwords, and these days among the most common is personalization. Now more than ever, consumers demand an experience tailored to their specific needs, and marketers continue to search for the best way to give that to them. But are they missing the mark? Research finds that while 69% of consumers seek an individualized customer experience today, only 40% of brands actually offer what they're looking for.

It stands to reason that consumers want a personalized experience in retail. They want to feel understood by the brands they invite into their homes — and a legacy "one-size-fits-all" approach to marketing is outdated. However, this desire is complicated by growing complexity resulting from the number of devices and channels across which consumers interact. Smartphones, computers, smart home devices, and new technology make the customer journey complicated, and while 94% of retailers think they've mastered customer-obsessed marketing, in reality, that number is only around 9%. There's clearly a disconnect here; where are marketers going wrong with personalization, and how can they adjust to better serve the consumer?

Splitting the whole

Retailers in 2019 are still viewing personalization through the lens of traditional demographic segmentation, which focuses on single data points such as age, gender, and purchase history, consequently directing content to consumers based on past needs instead of current intent. Herein lies the issue: marketers understand the exact personalized experience their consumers wanted — five minutes ago.

In a current marketplace where 81% of marketers expect the majority of their decisions to be data-driven by 2020 (and 76% percent say that's already the case), marketers need to take a good long look at the type and quality of data that's doing the driving. Is it giving an accurate and complete picture of the consumer in context? Is it achieving this in real time?

Time for a unified front

A recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting shows that to drive more meaningful engagement, retail marketers need to move beyond traditional personalization to deliver both customized and contextual experiences to customers in their exact moments of need. To do this, brands and marketers must put the customer, not the products, at the center of all decisions. This requires unified tools that provide a holistic view of marketing impact across channels and touchpoints. Success hinges on access to — and the ability to act on — timely, accurate, and increasingly granular, person-level data.

To evaluate the state of person-level data adoption among marketers –– the foundation of real-time, relevant brand experiences, Forrester Consulting polled 200 marketing professionals on behalf of Marketing Evolution. Key insights include:

● Customer obsession must drive strategy and customer data is the key: Companies are focused on business objectives such as growing revenue and meeting rising customer expectations, as well as marketing objectives like increasing brand influence and reach and achieving more efficient marketing ROI. Effectively executing against these initiatives requires marketing leaders to leverage timely, accurate, and highly granular customer data.
● A person-level data approach drives marketing excellence: Organizations that use person-level data perform better on their business and marketing goals and show stronger revenue growth than those who do not. More than 80% of respondents said that access to person-level data would either “improve” or “significantly improve” their ability to better understand their customers' attitudes and behaviors, as well as execute on high-priority initiatives delivering personalized, contextual and consistent experiences across online and offline channels.
● Propel business priorities forward: 84% of respondents agree that rising customer expectations will make person-level data a critical business capability over the next five years.
● Marketers want more data — and to make better use of what they have: While over 70% have already implemented or are currently expanding their customer data capabilities, 71% of marketers are hampered by disconnected measurement tools and approaches — a costly inefficiency in a fiercely competitive landscape.

Retail marketers today are navigating in an era of ongoing technological disruption. Digital transformation and the influx of smart technologies have led to the next generation of autonomous and super-empowered consumers. Increasing customer expectations for customized high-quality experiences across all channels, paired with the rising demand for transparency, has introduced new obstacles and levels of complexity.

For retail marketers to meet the needs of their customers, including customized and contextual experiences, adopting a person-based approach is critical. With access to real-time, accurate, and granular customer data, retail marketers and brands will be able to anticipate and act on consumers' needs as they arise and cultivate the personalization that their customers crave.