Rowan Kisby, Strategy Director@MullenLowe Profero

How we choose and buy is changing. With more products than ever available online, brands keener to get access to first party data, and consumers increasingly expecting ‘bespoke’, the retail experience is becoming increasingly intimate. On one hand, we’re seeing browsing platforms become more sophisticated as they seek to help us navigate an ever-expanding product & service range, and smart recommendation and curation are becoming the norm. On the other, we’re seeing products themselves become more deeply personalised — promising new solutions to evolving consumer needs.

The Top Line Trend

From: Your name on a product

To: Deep product & service personalisation

Tipping Point: Increasing AI investment

There’s no single driver of the trend towards deeper personalisation. Instead, a number of forces are at play.

1. Partner Maturity: data and platform partners are growing in sophistication, putting smart services within reach without reinventing the wheel.

2. The Data Drought: post-GDPR, brands are more aware of the value of 1st party data — and have access to less of it — than ever. The strong value exchange which personalisation delivers is the perfect opportunity to enhance a user’s experience, while mindfully replenishing data stocks.

3. Elevated Expectations: bespoke has become expected, as every brand experience is judged by the standards set by data-driven innovators who know who you are, where you are, and adapt their experience accordingly.

In this context, it’s no surprise that AI — and personalisation — top the list for CMOs when it comes to emerging technology investment in 2019 (Source: WARC). So what should we expect to see over the course of the year?

1.Expect more personal recommendation and curation

Consumers are increasingly wary of relying on ‘what the internet thinks’. Yes, that restaurant might have 4.5 stars — but who gave them, and what were their expectations & preferences?

We’re seeing a number of brands innovate to help consumers navigate range with greater confidence. Google Maps, for example, now features ‘Your Match’ data, based on your previous reviews, visited locations, and other data. The latest offering from Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet takes a different tack: the Masse app is designed to inspire and curate recommendations from your network of like-minded friends, rather than the world at large.

In the fashion category, meanwhile, personalisation is helping solve the age old fashion-fit problem ,with smart and simple tools like the ASOS fit finder and Uniqlo sizing tool using returns data to help you understand which size of an item is most likely to suit your own shape.

Red Thread have gone one further, focusing their proposition on this personalised fit, and knocking standard sizing off their range altogether.

They’re not the only brand stripping whole steps out of the journey. We’re increasingly encouraged to bypass the browsing stage and leave the hard work to smart digital assistants by brands like M&S’s Tuesday, which promises all the benefits of a personal stylist, while Unilever’s recently-launched Skinsei delivers a custom skin care regimen based on how you eat, sleep and live.

2. Expect deeper product personalisation

It’s not only the experience that’s going to become more personal. 2018 saw your-name-here offerings explode — with Nutella, KitKat, and even Gilette among the many brands offering the service.

This year, expect to see product personalisation go far beyond the label. Take, for example, Nestle, who are piloting a new supplement range in Japan. Members share photos of their food, and nutrition supplements are custom-formulated to suit their diet, with the option of adding a DNA test into the mix to provide even more data. Bareminerals and Lancome, meanwhile, are going after the ever-elusive goal of matching foundation flawlessly to skin colour: Lancome with a pop-up in Harrods, Bare Minerals with the ‘Made-2-Fit’ app that enables them to offer personalised product shades at scale.

That’s just the existing brands. Turn to start-ups, and you’ll find Vitamojo — who ditch the menu and instead build your meal based on your nutritional needs, and Ratio bar in Shanghai, who create custom cocktails and coffee serves, and learn from your previous visits to hone your taste profile.

If your product is content, that’s no barrier. Plantjammer creates bespoke vegetarian recipes based on a key ingredient or the contents of your fridge. In streaming it’ll be interesting to see where, following Bandersnatch, Netflix takes its choose-your-own-adventure style programming, and how much it’s learning about our preferences as we watch. Because insight is a great side effect of personalisation. Take, for example, Coca Cola’s ‘Freestyle’: vending machines. These not only offer a much wider variety of flavour variations, but enable custom mixes of up to 3 flavour shots: with the popular custom creations helping drive Coke’s in-store range.

So where/what/how should I personalise?

There’s (appropriately) no ‘one size fits all’ model for personalisation. A more intimate relationship with your users can deliver value across the journey, from providing NPD-driving insight, to streamlining the online purchase process, or giving you an edge in inspiring confidence that your product is the real solution to your user’s problem.

A knowledge of your existing data sets, current experience pain points, and a POV on which pieces of currently-missing data could unlock future opportunity can all provide great springboards for considering where a little bit of personalisation will go a long way.


Case Study: Johnnie Walker MyEdition

Johnnie Walker My Edition is a cutting-edge, online whisky personalisation experience that enables people to purchase new and exclusive Johnnie Walker whiskies, matched to an individual’s flavour preferences.

MullenLowe Profero worked with Johnnie Walker to create the perfect digital experience: from identifying your flavour preferences in a simple, visual journey, to inviting you to customise the bottle from label to engraving. The finished product is perfectly personal: whether for you, or as a gift.


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