Augmenting personalisation with empathy: the ultimate act of kindness in retail

Mother’s Day remains one of the busiest times of the year for retailers, even for those whose business isn’t directly related to the holiday. But just like all the other ‘calendar days’ celebrated throughout the year – from Random Acts of Kindness Day to National Hot Dog Day – there’s more to retail marketing than simply using these hooks to buy your way into customers’ affections. Like any relationship, it takes work to build loyalty, trust and authentic adoration.

McKinsey seems to agree. A few months ago, theirNext in Personalisation 2021’ study concluded that companies who excel at customer intimacy generate faster rates of revenue growth than their peers, stating that the closer organisations get to the consumer, the bigger the gains.

Offering a personalised experience is one of the more obvious ways brands can get closer to their customers, but what does this really mean at a time when MarTech and data practices enable this at scale?

Shops might have reopened across the UK, but a higher proportion of shopping still remains online, particularly when compared to before the pandemic. COVID forever altered the status quo of shopping and accelerated the shift to eCommerce, with consumers getting used to the convenience of online shopping.

Retailers rushed to the mania of eCommerce, and this surge in digital behaviours has led customers to raise their expectations: more personalisation.

But here’s the issue: McKinsey’s report found that 71 percent of consumers now expect companies to deliver personalised interactions, and 76 percent get frustrated when this doesn’t happen. The risks for those who don’t follow suit become all the more concrete, with three-quarters of consumers switching to a new store, product, or buying method during the pandemic. In comparison, the study showed that businesses that grew faster drove 40 percent more of their revenue from personalisation when compared to slower-growing counterparts.

So, how are marketing teams supposed to drive sales, the ultimate goal of marketing, when personalising CRM campaigns isn’t just the norm, it’s expected?

People interact with people they like

While marketers tend to group customers into specific demographics based on historical purchasing data, it’s easy to forget that these do not define the individual, each of whom will have a set of deeply ingrained values and unique set of emotions, experiences and interests.

When it comes to personalisation, there’s a wide range of retailers who thrive on making sales this way and have successfully achieved a level of personalisation that resonates. But once again, now almost any marketing professional can pull this off, so relying on that alone will not guarantee longevity of results.

If retailers want to continue surprising and delighting in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, forward-minded marketers need to start questioning transactions as their ultimate “end game”. Empathy now reigns supreme, and it will be more beneficial to brands in the long run if they want to be backed by a pool of loyal customers.

Transactions don’t guarantee loyalty, and customers will only stay loyal to those brands who stay loyal to them throughout the year.

With customers increasingly expectant of personalisation, augmenting this concept will ultimately benefit the customer just as much as the marketer. Embracing empathy through prudence and the offering of truly relevant content will be received as a show of understanding towards their needs, and not just a form of ‘personalisation’.

There’s more to this than turning massive datasets into targeted, promotional campaigns, though. Retail marketers need to start contextualising communications initiatives with a broader appreciation of customers’ interests, concerns and beliefs.

Showing your true purpose isn’t cliche

People want to understand how the brands they do business with ultimately share the same values and beliefs as them – so don’t underestimate the importance of sharing yours. 

There is a reason why Patagonia held the top spot in a study on the reputation of corporations as perceived by customers, with an index score of 82.7. The American retailer has identified the values its customers’ resonate with and has consistently matched those to a genuine purpose. This tactic has driven engagement with the brand, and has been arguably more important than matching products or categories.

Showing empathy will allow you to understand customers, but communicating your purpose will be a key point of differentiation amongst a packed crowd, as this will strike a chord with followers and increase support for the business.

Connecting personalisation with empathy

With personalisation now possible at scale, if retailers want to excel at customer intimacy, they need to ensure campaigns and messaging fit seamlessly into their customers’ lives, and strengthen the notion of how the brand can support and help them.

Personalisation is one part of this, of course. You can talk about products with eco credentials to customers that have shown an interest before, but that doesn’t mean they need or even want these products right now. Adding a layer of empathy however helps strengthen your connection, making the message much more powerful. For example, demonstrating that you understand moments when being ‘green’ is challenging, and offering advice, tips and possibly products that can help customers overcome these hurdles.

This shows a true understanding not just of the customer and their purchasing habits, but of them as an individual.

One brand that does this incredibly well is Ella’s Kitchen’s. The children’s food brand reported huge success during the pandemic, which can be partly attributed to how it demonstrated its purpose. This takes more than just personalising a campaign, the brand anticipated the difficulty parents have of weaning their babies onto solid food, and offered to support them in the process – laying the groundwork for new customers in the process

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