How Marketers Can Enhance Personalization With Human Data

While it’s common for marketers to still believe that traditional customer experience (CX) and personalization tactics are successful, industry experts from ERDM, MassMutual and Rent The Runway note that understanding the human dimension is what leads to satisfied customers.

ERDM President Ernan Roman discussed the value of Voice of Customer (VOC) research during a session titled Using Human Data And Reciprocity Of Value For CX Innovation, at the Retail Innovation Conference in New York City on May 11. The session also provided in-depth case studies on how brands are seeing success with human-data-driven personalization.

“When we look at what the data says about how customers and prospects are feeling about customer experience and personalization, we marketers are kidding ourselves,” said Roman. “What we’re doing is putting on the same old lipstick of spray-and-pray marketing that’s been going on for decades, and now we think that, in this digital age, these customers aren’t smart enough to figure out that we haven’t changed a thing.”


Roman continued by showing real B2B and B2C consumer quotes from the research, which proved that traditional customer experience and personalization strategies aren’t working. Responses included:

  • “What we’re seeing is not smart personalization. They aren’t personalizing the things that matter to me as an individual.”
  • “What they consider as personalization is so old-fashioned.”
  • “I want more than just buying history-based emails.”
  • “With today’s technology, I expect emails to reflect my interests and preferences.”

Standard transaction-based personalization — “You bought red, so try blue.” — that everyone is doing is not true personalization, according to Roman. “The common point you’re going to see is that we need to get down to the atomic level of the individual if we’re going to do true personalization.”

Consumers Will Provide Personal Data For Brands They Trust

It’s time marketers start looking into alternatives. One of the most notable findings from ERDM’s research is that both B2B and B2C customers are willing to provide “astonishingly deep” business or personal information in exchange for high levels of personalization, if they trust the brand.

“If you look at that, that completely reframes the conversation of privacy, because now it’s ‘I’ll give you something in exchange for [X],’” said Roman. “This has come across so consistently — particularly in the last six months — from B2B and B2C [companies]. We call it reciprocity of value equation. This can be an enormous takeaway in helping you rethink how you view the entire fundamental strategy of personalization.”

Roman highlighted three components of the reciprocity equation:

  1. Consumer reciprocity: Consumers recognize they must provide marketers with more and deeper data to receive the highest level of personalization. Roman added, “It’s the strategic shift that we’re seeing in the VOC research to explicit personalization: ‘I don’t want generic or implicit personalization just because you watch my web behavior. I want it explicit and personalized to me, which means I need to give you the data to help you, if I trust you and if you react responsibly.’”
  2. Business reciprocity: Roman described this as an honest commitment by marketers to provide “true and smart, and not old-fashioned,” levels of personalization. “What this also means is that the recognition that our persona and transaction-based models are OK, but they have not significantly moved the needle on response retention. So how do we commit to that level or personalization?”
  3. Human data: Roman defines this as the deep levels of need that are relevant to the decision-making process. What is the individual’s media and message preferences? What are their personal attitude toward the product and brand? Where are they in their life stage? How do they want you to address these points?

“The sum of consumer reciprocity, plus business reciprocity, plus earning the right to get deep human data is what results in this transformational increase in response,” said Roman.

MassMutual Earns A 94% Higher Open Email Rate With Opt-In Content

Roman continued by providing real-world examples of companies that increased their customer engagement through the use of data reciprocity. In one example, insurance and financial services company MassMutual had previously relied on traditional, persona-based marketing to communicate with customers.

Although the company had compiled a huge amount of insight about its customers through analyzing their plans and policies, all that data still wasn’t driving meaningful levels of engagement. Customers provided feedback such as, “I don’t want marketing when it comes to these major issues in terms of retirement planning, life insurance and disability. You can market laptops and cell phones, but this is my life. I’m not looking to be marketed to; I’m looking to make life decisions.”

After conducting VOC research with ERDM, Mass Mutual received intensely personal, emotional self-identification, which led to a completely new model for personalization. According to Roman, that inspired a completely new approach to messaging, from the imagery to the copy, and drove a level of impact that MassMutual was not able to achieve prior to using human data.

The research also showed that content marketing was the “most boring category possible.” People don’t get excited about retirement planning, so Mass Mutual found a way to educate its customers through educational entertainment. They created a mock talk show with more than 18 episodes to engage people on content. The customers were then able to opt-in to the topics that best served them, and watch just those episodes. MassMutual conducted a trial for opt-in based engagement, which asked which episodes would be most relevant to subscribers. The company achieved the following results from the opt-in/preference-based population versus the control group:

  • 94% higher open email rate; and
  • 1,000% higher level of engagement with content, because it was targeted content per the VOC research.

“If you get people to truly opt in, they will make it their business to get you the right email so they can receive the right content,” concluded Roman.

Rent The Runway Dresses With Supplied Customer Sizing Data See 3x More Rentals

As an online-only dress rental site, Rent The Runway found value in its customer reviews platform, where women voluntarily shared personal information.  

According to the company, one of the biggest issues with renting dresses via Rent The Runway is not knowing if a dress will fit or not. Therefore, the customer reviews section became a “proxy” for actually trying on one of the site’s dresses. Rent The Runway was able to gain access to human data — such as size, height, weight and age — and whether or not the dress the reviewer wore fit them well or not, through this platform.

With that information, future customers can look through the customer reviews section to find women that are similar to them in size and shape, and see which dresses will look best on them.

“Women sharing data [are] paying it forward because there is something in it for them,” said David Page, SVP of Brand Strategy & Research at Rent The Runway. “This is a great example of reciprocity.”

While the platform is great for the consumer, it also proved to be beneficial for the brand. According to Page, dresses that have reviews convert 3x more than dresses without reviews because the reviews give women the confidence that the dress they select will fit.

“I worked in marketing long enough to know that often we start with what we need, not what the customer needs,” Page continued. “But if you start with the customer and ask yourself what’s in it for them, you’ll find it a lot easier to get the data in the first place. I’ve been surprised by how much people are willing to share if they can see that there is something in it for them.” 



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