Are You Profiling Your Customers?

Posted on by Jeriad Zoghby

Brands looking to be personal shouldn’t treat people like personas; they could risk losing their most valuable customers.

Imagine walking into your favorite clothing store and having the sales representative approach you to offer assistance. When she reaches you, she immediately ‘sizes you up’ like a character from Mean Girls, assessing details about you (your approximate age, sex, income bracket, etc.), and suggest store merchandise based on other customers similar to you. Would you be offended?

As in human nature too: Just because one chicken wants to don a purple hat as an accessory doesn’t mean all look-a-like chickens want to.

It’s safe to say that if someone assessed you like this in-person, the experience would be unpleasant at best.  Especially if you knew you were one of their most valuable customers.  It is these kinds of experiences that leave a bad taste for customers, and often provoke them to escalate their concerns on social channels or make a complaint to customer service, which can snowball into a total PR nightmare.

Putting the personal back in personalization

Surprisingly, this approach of treating customers as a persona is generally seen as a best-in-class approach for digital experiences. Personas are an important tool for market research and creating customer journey maps. However, when customers engage, just as they do in an offline environment, they want to be treated like a person, not a persona.

The first to realize and react to this are your most valuable customers. They typically make up the top 20 percent of a company’s customer base, but contribute roughly 80 percent of total profits. Keep in mind this small group is also outnumbered 4-to-1 in the data. Their immense value earns them the right to be recognized and remembered as individuals, not buried within a persona. Companies that fail to treat their most valuable customers as individuals risk losing these customers to another brand that will show them they value them (more).

Being more personal starts with better listening

Brands looking to be more personal first need to take a critical look at how they are currently listening to their customers.  Most companies know “what” customers do, such as what products and services they buy.  Yet they also have the ability to understand “why” an individual chose that product or service.

For every interaction, such as the purchase or viewing of a product, there is another more intimate level of listening that is possible. An individual may consistently show a preference for products with lavender scents, be passionate about specific brands, or have hypoallergenic needs. This is the same level of detail customers use when they shop to make decisions about the product they buy, the emails they open, the events they attend, and their social interactions.

These nuances are unique to each individual and create the living profile that is invaluable to curating an experience that is personal. And the more engaged a customer is the more personal a brand can be with them.

It’s not just an improved experience—it’s about innovation through personalization

This growing notion of personalizing to actual individuals, not personas, will impact businesses beyond the marketing department. Being able to truly profile the individual customer—ideally your top 20 percent–will be a game changer. Just look at the following three scenarios:

1. Personal curation The concept of an endless aisle sounds great till your looking through 400 pages of options while shopping online. A recent study found that 40 percent of customers have left a site because they were overwhelmed.  By truly understanding an individual’s needs, preferences and passions, a brand can curate experiences uniquely to each individual.

2. Personal concierge services Digital is flattening privileges by making luxury services accessible to the masses. It allows brands to listen intensely to each customer as an individual and provide individualized v concierge services. This is no longer a future endeavor as Carnival has shown with their Medallion program. Who’s next to provide this level of service to every customer?

3. Market innovation Understanding and collecting the “why’s” of customer choices creates a unique intellectual property that a brand builds through its relationship with its customers. This is perfectly exemplified with Netflix and its original series programs, such as House of Cards or Stranger Things. The idea of creating “private label products” based on personalized interactions can go a long way in so many other industries.

At the end of the day, segments and personas will always remain important components when it comes to market research and journey marketing. But having the mindset of how to treat your best customers will separate the game changers from secondary companies in this industry, and those who don’t adapt will risk losing brand affinity by merely categorizing customers the wrong way.

Jeriad Zoghby is managing director and global personalization lead of Accenture Interactive. He can be reached at


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