Expert offers advice on personalization strategies

E-commerce faces many threats - privacy, security and even government regulation. But there may be no greater threat than companies maintaining an outmoded "product-centric" way of thinking in this new economy.

SAN FRANCISCO -- E-commerce faces many threats - privacy, security, even government regulation.

But according to 1-to-1 marketing guru Martha Rogers, there may be no greater threat than companies maintaining an outmoded "product-centric" way of thinking in this new economy.

"In the industrial age, the most important thing a company made was its products," Rogers told attendees at the final day of the Personalization Summit here Tuesday. "In this age of information, there are companies that don't even make products at all. They make customers. The companies that define themselves by their customers are the ones who will win."

Key to this customer-centric approach is engaging customers in a dialogue, said Rogers, a partner in the Peppers & Rogers Group, of Stamford, Conn.

"My mandate is getting you to talk to me," she said. "Then I can know something about you that my competitor doesn't know and do something for you that my competitor can't do. If I know more about the customer than you do, I can increase the lifetime value of the customer and keep the customer loyal."

Talking to customers yields information about them that will be key to any personalization strategy, across any communication channel, Rogers said.

"You can't have personalization without information. And the way we handle that information will determine where we go from here," she said.

"Companies that are successful are the ones that take input and feedback from their individual customers. They make it easier and easier for their customers to do business with them. Only the companies that make it convenient for their customers to be loyal will be successful."

Gaining customers' loyalty involves gaining their trust. And that can be accomplished by giving customers some control over the information gathered about them.

"What consumers want is control," Rogers argued. "You get smarter about me, you let me know what information you're getting, you let me confirm."

Treating customers with such respect builds a company's brand among them as a company they can trust.

"If I trust you, I'm willing to give you my information," Rogers said.

But competition for the souls of customers remains intense. Most companies will find that their competition will adopt a customer-centric approach as well.

"You have to ask yourself, 'What can I do now to make my customers more loyal and more valuable, even when my competitors will do the same thing in the same way?'" she said.

Rogers left attendees with one last piece of advice.

"If you were to launch a brand-new 1-to-1 business today, ask yourself how it would compete with your own business as it is now."

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