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Scaling Up the “Little Black Book”: Three Steps to Personalized Journeys

Authored by Tamara Gruzbarg

Remember those little black books store associates used to keep—and how closely they guarded them? They knew first-hand the value of greeting customers by name, understanding their preferences, having insight into past purchases, etc. Essentially, providing personalized journeys, in person.

Of course, it would be impossible to scale the little black book model across thousands or millions of customers—especially in the digital age, when customers interact with brands across so many different touch points. And yet as we move from a consumer economy (with price and savings as primary drivers) to a relationship economy (in which service and loyalty are primary drivers), customers increasingly expect the kind of personalized experiences those black books provided.

The good news is, fashion retailers now gather, in digital form, the kind of data that associates used to jot down in their little books, and more—contact info, demographic details, purchase transactions, browsed products and services. In fact, I have helped a number of top fashion retailers turn that data into customer-centric journeys.

In order to gain the greatest value from these efforts over the long run, I often suggest that brands focus first on the experiences of newly acquired customers. Here are some statistics from my work with clients that illustrate how important it is to engage early and consistently:

  • Around 80% of future brand loyalists engage within the first week of sharing their email address.
  • Around 70% of repeat buyers place their second order within 30 days after their first purchase.
  • There is only about a 15% chance a customer will return to your brand if they don’t make a purchase within 12 months since their last purchase.

Not All Welcome Journeys Are the Same…

Every fashion retailer understands how critical those initial interactions are. However, many still bombard new customers with a one-size-fits-all series of email messages that: 1) introduce the customer to the brand, 2) include an introductory offer, 3) promote a product, and 4) solicit feedback.

In reality, these messages often end up seeming irrelevant to many new customers. Why? Because they fail to take into account interactions that these customers have had with the brand in the meantime. For example, brands still rely on:

  • “Our bestsellers” and “new this season” messages, even if they already bought one or more of these promoted products.
  • An invitation to take a survey and provide product feedback, even after customers have returned an item because it did not fit.
  • Product retargeting message, based solely on digital behavior, even after a customer has bought this item in store.

In the experience economy, such misfires are more than a wasted marketing opportunity. You actually risk alienating new customers, since you are letting them know you are not very good at recognizing them, their preferences, or their blossoming relationship with your brand. And yet less brands use customer data to create personalized experiences only about half the time, according to a Q4 2019 Merkle customer engagement report.

While the particulars of your own customer journeys will vary, there are a few essential steps that every brand should take during those crucial first months in your relationship with new customers: 


Step 1: Create a responsive “welcome” series.

As you plan out your Welcome Series for new customers, make sure you do so in a way that that tracks individual customers’ behaviors and adjust the overall journey accordingly. For example, if you decide to launch a three-part communication stream to a segment of newly acquired email addresses, be ready to pivot after the first message based on customer’s response.

For example, if she made a purchase soon after your first “Welcome to the Brand” message, you do not want to send her a generic “Our Bestsellers” email. Instead, send her on a more relevant journey, one that is informed by the item she just bought. For example, you might provide relevant product care or styling advice based on her purchase.  In this way, the Welcome Journey is organically connected to her Post-Purchase Journey, creating the kind of seamless, relevant experiences that develop into long-term relationships.


Step 2: Craft a tailored post-purchase journey.

Well thought-out, personalized post-purchase journeys are critical for engendering customer loyalty, so  it is really important to get it right. Here again, it is important to listen to individual customers’ signals to figure out what type of message is the most appropriate.

Here is an example. If a customer purchased something and decided to return it, you should not send him a satisfaction survey, even if, for most customers, that is the next best step in the journey. Be prepared to follow-up with a more relevant communication—for example, product recommendations based on the item that has been returned, and the return reason. For example, if a dress was returned because it did not fit, you could recommend a dress of a different style, or a similar style in a different size.  In this way, you can seamlessly send your customer on the Return part of your Connected Journey.


Step 3: Identify churn signals and design prevention strategies.

If you think about a customer’s engagement with your brand as a continuous path, you realize that you should be highly attuned to her individual behavioral patterns. This part is critical for a truly personalized retention strategy.

I have seen so many retailers sending generic retention messages after 90 days since the last purchase. On average, no purchase in three months might not sound that bad. However, if you have a customer who used to shop every month, yet has not made a purchase  after 60 days, you don’t want to wait until day 90 to deliver that retention message. The time to act is now, because this customer is sending you a strong signal of disengagement and eventual churn. Again, your retention message, in this case, becomes an integral part of your customer’s Connected Journey experience.


The Building Blocks of Connected Journeys

To design and execute these kinds of connected, personalized journeys at scale, you need several key capabilities:

  • All key online and offline customer behavioral data, unified and associated with individual customer profiles.
  • Predictive intelligence (e.g. “next best offer” and “churn risk”), to deliver personalized messages to the right person at the right time in their journey.
  • Execution across any and all relevant channels, based on behavioral triggers.

Depending on the current state of your martech stack, each of these steps could involve extensive intervention by data, IT and analytics experts. In other words, multiple queues and complex handoffs. Alternately, you should consider adopting what Gartner calls a smart hub. These solutions are designed to speed and automate critical steps in both personalization and, in certain cases, holistic customer journey design and execution.

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