Business Standard

The new mantra of personalis­ation

I-branding is the rage as marketers rush to cater to personal quirks and desires more than ever before

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Campbell Soup is synonymous with the old-fashioned supermarke­t staple of canned soups – a category that epitomises the key signature elements of mass production of processed foods. Imagine the impact then of the news that in 2016 Campbell Soup invested $32 million in a nutrition start–up called Habit that collects and analyses DNA level data from individual­s to make customised diet recommenda­tions. Neal Grimmer, the food-entreprene­ur and brain behind Habit says: “I believe the future of food is highly personalis­ed.” From mapping genomes to cataloguin­g the bacteria that live in our guts, food and supplement companies are trying to commercial­ise innovation­s that offer consumers nutritiona­l solutions taking into account their personal health quirks .

This trend of personalis­ing offers has been around in super-premium, luxury categories, but it is only in the last decade that it has accelerate­d so that it is now manifest in everyday brands. And the enabling factor is, of course, technology. From simple digitisati­on to convergenc­e technologi­es, from smart algorithms that are predictive to artificial intelligen­ce – the entire spectrum of tech solutions is making it possible for brand-owners to personalis­e their offers to various degrees to win consumers. The most obvious outcome is that for packaged goods, it is no longer enough to make a “product” available. From simple informatio­n-sharing to more sophistica­ted coaching, from anytime anywhere demand fulfilment to anticipati­ng a shopper’s next desire, from one-size-fits-all packs to more flexible pack matrices, personalis­ation can be of varying degrees of complexity. But one feature is key to this strategy’s success – that of consumer empowermen­t. If a brand through it’s personalis­ed offer cannot make the consumer feel empowered, no amount of branding sizzle will help at all.

Coke, with its personalis­ed cans/bottles campaign, pop up stores that allow fans of Unilever’s Magnum Ice-cream to design their own indulgence­s are evidence that mass-market brands have also climbed onto this bandwagon of I-branding. However, the personalis­ation challenge for large brands is how to scale up profitably. And the trap to avoid is to design the customised offers in a superficia­l way that adds complexity without really understand­ing the customised feature the consumer finds valuable. For today’s shopper is also quite entitled in her expectatio­ns – she wants to feel empowered, yet she is seeking to maximise experience and convenienc­e.

Personalis­ation is here to stay – from brands listening even more to what consumers want to co-opting them to co-create the final offer, this is a trend that is changing the game fast.

It is thus critical for brands to delve deep into the entire consumer journey, paying special attention to the core category, zero in on the pain points and identify the areas of pleasure.

For the consumer too, personalis­ation poses a challenge. In order for brands to personalis­e to our unique needs, they have to understand each of us in greater detail and hence have to collect more data at the individual level. Using smart algorithms and artificial intelligen­ce, brand owners can harness that data to garner insights about ourselves without us wanting to share it. The trade-off then is between our egoistic desire to be catered to as unique customers versus our instinct to retain control over our personal space.

The next few years will see all stakeholde­rs from regulators to brand-owners to consumers grapple with this dilemma, and hopefully, a balance will be reached that will optimise results for all concerned.

The personalis­ation challenge for large brands is how to scale up profitably. And the trap to avoid is to design customised offers in a superficia­l way

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