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Personalization – How do mass brands compete?

Anna Stoyanova

VP, Head of Product, Australia & NZ



Personalization – How do mass brands compete?

Personalization is a topic the marketing world has been obsessing over for quite some time. Yet, it still seems unattainable for a number of brands. We’ve gotten to the point where many marketers would prefer not to talk about it because of its perceived level of difficulty. It is particularly challenging for brands of scale.

However, there are small things brands of all sizes can start doing to improve the experience consumers are having with their brands and these little things, ultimately, over time, will ladder-up to a more personal, involved, and relevant experience with that brand.

But before we look how that can work, it’s worth defining what makes a mass brand in today’s market. Mass brands are brands that are relevant to everyone in some shape or form or, alternatively, brands that can add value for everyone.

While there are many brands that have the opportunity and scope to become mass brands and to be relevant to everybody, there are few that truly are. Too often they are constrained by their own definition of a target audience or have no desire to reimagine their products in a different way.

Most people need electricity, the internet, petrol or groceries. There’s no disputing that these are mass products. But while the product itself is mass, how specific brands go to market can lead to the loss of this mass status as the brand attempts to be relevant and personal.

The layers of personalization

When it comes to true personalization, there are three different layers at play.

1.     The first is the product itself. Can it be relevant to everyone or does it need to take different shapes and forms?

2.    The next layer is the marketing of that product. Do the communications need to be tailored to every consumer in bringing to life the promise of personal relevance? Marketing alone cannot deliver true personalization, no matter how big or small the brand is. It can only deliver the promise that may or may not be fulfilled by the product. Take the example of Coca-Cola’s 2011 ‘Share a Coke’ campaign which saw the brand put people’s names on cans and bottles. The fact that there were names on the labels doesn't mean that the product was personal.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction and it is part of a movement started by another mass brand. In 2005, Starbucks chains in the USA started asking people for their names and writing them on coffee cups. The tactic created a permanent change in how businesses service clients.


3.   But it wasn’t a Cannes Lion-winning marketing campaign, it was personalization through the customer experience. This is the third link in the personalization chain: the product, the marketing and the service all need to come together. Any one of these can start a personalization journey for a brand. And the brands that are the most successful are the ones that can deliver consistently across all three.

Applying personalization

So how could this work for other mass brands? The opportunities are vast. Take the example of a petrol brand. Could the brand, for example, be aware that you need to fill up your tank three times a week or that you travel an average number of kilometers? If so, the brand could send you a notification ahead of your next refill with details of the nearest petrol station and a discount voucher. That’s an example of how a brand could improve how people interact with its products at the times when they need them.

Of course, it’s no mean feat to pull off something that sophisticated and the complexity of such an approach is often enough to deter marketers of mass brands from exploring more personalized marketing.

But instead of thinking that big, start small. Break it down into more sizeable chunks starting with things you can do straight away, things that you need to plan for a little bit and start doing in the next six months and things that will take longer because of the business infrastructure.

Personalization does seem like a daunting task, particularly for mass brands. It seems complicated because often it is and it likely requires bringing other teams in the organization onboard because things like data management are not necessarily within your remit. If you want to use personalization to compete, the whole organization needs to commit to it.

If we keep talking about personalization as something we will do when we’re 100% ready, it will probably never happen. It's about taking a risk, trialing a few things and trialing and building on that and that’s something brands of all sizes are capable of.