Personalization is the holy grail of marketing. Every firm is looking to create a unique brand experience for each customer, especially when the experience itself is now a brand.
Creating one for every individual is not trivial. It takes different technologies, talents, and processes.
Mika Yamamoto, Chief Digital Marketing Officer, SAP knows the diverse challenges well. Her role was specifically created to drive the demand side of her business and to create the right technology stack for it.
“We do business in 180 countries, across three market segments, have seven lines of business and work with 35 market units. We need to cover all these areas and make sure we are supporting our team and listening to their needs,” Yamamoto told CDOTrends at RISE Hong Kong 2018.
At SAP, Yamamoto quickly understood that customer behaviors are evolving fast. "Customers are increasingly going to third-party sites to learn about what [technology products] they want to buy and invest in,” she said, adding that her firm now has to ensure that potential leads learn about the right information on sites that they no longer control or own.
Customers across different segments also use digital information differently. Large companies consume digital information very differently from smaller companies, while the people consuming it differs across firms. “So, we need to look at the type of information we put in each channel,” she said.
At SAP, Yamamoto started with a clear strategy that defined the customer experience. Without one, “the best tech stack is not going to help you,” she said.
The Personalization Challenge
In the past, marketing teams usually start segmenting the customer base to identify potential lead generation initiatives. Yamamoto believes that this is no longer enough, and firms need to do more to drive personalization.
“Segmenting gets you only so far; you create too many generalizations. We start by segmenting by size, industry, and geography, which gives us a really crude initial cut on how we are going to focus on our customers. But when it comes to contacting the customer, we have to cut over to personalization,” Yamamoto said.
It is not a simple shift. “The biggest challenge is that [personalization] requires a different type of metrics and monitoring system,” Yamamoto added.
Talent is another enormous hurdle when managing personalization. "The type of skills you need is vast. We need people [who] understand the kind of data we need to pull to create the dashboard…people to read the dashboard to understand whether a certain metric is high or low for that specific segment and instance…and someone in real time to understand what can be improved,” she added.
When creating her own technology stack, Yamamoto saw two significant gaps: Connecting the stack with data and interfacing with third party data sources.
Data connectivity challenges arise because the CRM system is often “not built for digital interactions.” Yamamoto also added that different regulatory and customer needs require SAP to access data in “different ways.”
While ingesting third-party data is vital to understand customer motivation and personalizing experiences, ensuring that it is accurate can be a headache. But there is no silver bullet.
“The third-party data, because it is not ours, may not be accurate. We are constantly testing and learning honestly, and we are doing pilots and checking with the customers to see how accurate it is,” Yamamoto said.
Future Proofing with Intelligence
Yamamoto sees a strong future for AI and machine learning in helping with personalization challenges.
She noted that there are multiple places in the marketing funnel where AI can help to “surprise and delight the customer by anticipating their needs.” AI can also be used to automate laborious tasks, moving employees to higher value tasks.
“But there is a learning curve, and there are lots of false positives. So, it takes people to watch the [AI] system as well, making sure we are checking and correcting errors,” she added.