What sets top-performing brands, such as Sephora, apart from the rest? At a high level, the answer is simple: customer experience. When brands successfully personalize their marketing across all channels, customers feel like the brand knows them.
But, what a customer expects, and what a brand wants or needs to do to be profitable, are often at odds. That’s why so many consumers complain about overbearing “buy now” messaging and endless e-mail inbox clutter. Brands that get personalization right, like Sephora, prove that this doesn’t have to be so.
For the third year in a row, with a score of 79 out of a possible 100, beauty pioneer Sephora claims the top slot in Sailthru’s Retail Personalization Index. If you’re a Sephora customer, you may already know why. Its mobile app is by far the best retail mobile app out there. Sephora’s in-app messaging is personalized to be consistent with user profiles, which can even include information such as hair and skin type. Its loyalty program is ridiculously sophisticated.
This year, in particular, Sephora did a stellar job of linking offers and other communications across e-mail, web and mobile — and using all those to drive both online and in-store purchases. These customer-focused actions are helping Sephora earn money in the long run. In April, LVMH reported, “Sephora recorded strong revenue growth and gained market share over the period.”
This year, the index shows us that as consumers have increasingly moved to mobile channels, the best brands have responded by improving their mobile experiences. Push notifications are more likely to feature personalized content, including personalized recommendations. In-app messaging is becoming more common, more personal and more persuasive.
Most important, brands are doing a much better job synchronizing offers across different platforms. Historically, too many brands have tackled personalization channel by channel: They had an e-mail strategy, a mobile strategy, a web strategy and an in-store strategy. That’s not entirely the brands’ fault, as often, this choice was dictated by the limitations of legacy technology and organizational design. But what marketers need, and what works, is an omnichannel strategy that allows them to reach customers on the channel that makes the most sense for the customer.
Sephora does all this, and then some. It continues to provide a great digital-to-store experience, using digital channels to encourage customers to book makeovers and fashion consultations. And its loyalty program is well-orchestrated across every channel. Profile details, from first name to buying habits to answers to quizzes, are also well-used across channels. Every communication from the brand, on every platform, displays the customer’s loyalty points — and this includes the in-store sales associates, who reiterate point totals. Those same associates can access a customer’s profile in-store, and track items that were sampled, making it easy to find and buy them on the web site or app.
Similar to other retailers, Sephora is syncing offers across platforms. Its individual communications are well-personalized — sometimes surprisingly so. “Oily skin? Meet your [foundation] match,” reads one recent subject line. Customers who are regular users of certain products, but haven’t purchased in a while, might get personalized discount codes to entice them to replenish. If a customer isn’t engaging over e-mail, Sephora will cut back on the number of e-mails it sends — both reducing the risk of churn and keeping customers happy.
You might complain that, when it comes to personalization, Sephora has an unfair advantage. What, after all, could be more personal than the products you apply to your skin? But here’s the thing: Sephora demonstrates that personalization becomes a powerful differentiator and competitive advantage primarily when brands leverage the characteristics and insights that make them and their customers unique.
Any marketer can be inspired by Sephora’s success in personalization. These are the strategies, after all, that are going to move retail into the future and hold the potential to differentiate and strengthen any brand. But it makes no sense to offer a particular variety of personalization simply because those tactics appeal to another brand’s audience. Instead, marketers need to discover the tactics will be uniquely powerful for their own brands, with their own distinct strengths, weaknesses, insights and customers.
Jason Grunberg is vice president of marketing at Sailthru.
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