Thought Pieces

What does ‘Personal’ mean?

By 3rd September 2018 No Comments

What does ‘Personal’ mean?
By Jenni Ashwood


This is something we’ve been thinking about and mulling over internally for a while. It’s something we’ve written and rewritten many times. Which is demonstrative of the complexity of the subject. So rather than a ‘properly’ crafted essay piece, this is a collection of thoughts and possible conclusions drawn together.

We see ‘personalisation’ as being 2018’s important word and so do our clients: “How can we better connect and resonate with our customers?” and “how can we really mean something to them?” But everyone has a different POV on what ‘personalised’ means in marketing and what’s important. From the Data Manager, to the UX Specialist, to the Product Strategist, to the Brand Planner, to the creative team, the word ‘personalisation’ in the context of ‘marketing’(1) can often cause confusion.

So what could ‘personal’ mean?

Personalised products – this could be products that consumers feel are relevant to them and their needs, or literally personalised products (e.g. making something the colour of my choice alone, my initials, to my exact specification so that no-one else has it).

Personalised targeting – talking to people in the way that’s right for them. Mixing data with qualitative research, understanding their preferred journeys to purchase, with the addition of some instinct too. Boden has been excelling at this for years with their DMs that show pieces previously bought and suggesting new ones based on that. Newer companies like Stitch Fix are showing that data-driven personalisation plus a layer of human thought can make something very special that is hugely relevant(2).

Personalised experiences – retail is more than just bricks and mortar, or a nice and easy ecommerce journey; 53% of UK Millennials would rather spend money on an experience as opposed to a possession(3). It’s free delivery and simple returns, as well as a reason to spend time in store/online that isn’t linked to a hard sell. Offline, Rapha have really excelled in this space(4); online we love the Everlane Instagram and website (incidentally, their New York store was also a very relaxing place to just ‘be’ in a heatwave). In the travel sector, Black Tomato’s ‘Get Lost’ programme merges the need for disconnecting with an incredibly unique ‘holiday.’

Personalised brands – demonstrating how a brand’s values are echoed and shared with their customers: 54% of British and American millennials are looking to connect with brands which enhance their spirit and soul(5). This isn’t about chameleon-ing yourself as a brand so that you match each individuals’ requirements. It’s about nailing your colours to a mast so that customers can say ‘yes I get that, and they get me too.’

Personalised content and creative – this is more sophisticated than walking past a billboard and having your name flash up. In many ways, it’s about having content that resonates with what someone cares about that day – which arguably editorial publications have been doing for years – but which is often harder to implement in an ‘advertising’ context with print lead times etc.

…But the truth is that this is all easier to theorise about than actually do. From a practical perspective budgets only stretch so far. So do you spend limited funds on a new brand campaign, dynamic content or updating retailer environments?

Perhaps it can be summed up as this: personalisation is valuable in some contexts, especially with brands with which you have a close relationship. And it’s about what people expect from you (the brand) based on the kind of brand you are, as well as whether they have given you permission or not to do so. Canvas 8 (2018) highlight that 48% of consumers are frustrated when a brand doesn’t personalise its services, and 61% say they would switch companies without hesitation if they have a poor customer experience. With this said, brands could potentially lose out due to unsatisfactory experiences as they contribute to an erosion of trust. These businesses may fall victim to the ‘switching economy’ – where people switch brands for a better deal when service isn’t up to scratch (Canvas 8, 2018).

I like thinking of it in ‘real terms’ – if you met someone briefly once and then they messaged you at least once a week offering advice that they claimed was perfect for you, or sent you a free bracelet with both your initials engraved on it, you’d think they were mad!

Bill Gates, speaking on Radio 4 earlier this year, touched on this when questioned on the legitimacy of companies using personal data to target more effectively. The conclusion he drew was simple and we think can be echoed across the other ‘personalised’ elements: the preference for personalised advertising is the most important ‘personal’ thing a brand should care about.



1. Getting the right product into the right marketplace for the right people at the right time \
3. Proudlock D., 02/07/18, UK Millennials Report
4. Though their latest campaign to ‘Ride with Us’ perhaps shows that for many, this intense personal experience was actually excluding many who felt they, personally, weren’t the right fit. However there’s an argument that by trying to reach more people, they dilute the previous successful work they’ve previously done.
5. Proudlock D., 02/07/18, UK Millennials Report