Pat Fahy


New technology and innovation has completely changed the way we shop, consume media and interact with brands. It’s now all on the consumer’s terms and brands are having to adapt their engagement strategies in response to this shift.

A major part of this has been the growing trend in how ‘personalisation’ is becoming an integral part of brands. Many have realised they can no longer rely on being an established brand alone and are finding new and surprising ways to engage with consumers using personalisation instead.

Coca-Cola’s successful ‘share a coke’ campaign started a wave of brand campaigns that focus on personalisation, like Oreo’s customisable packaging, Heinz’s personalised ‘Get Well’ tins of soup; and Snickers current ‘Who are you?’ campaign.

Food and beverage brands have also started to focus on offering personalised nutrition as part of the DNA of their actual products. Pepsi Co’s Drinkfinity allows athletes to create personalised refreshments from pods of concentrated ingredients, while Nestle’s ‘food as medicine’ positioning includes a number of personalisation initiatives.

There’s also been a big focus on personalisation in the travel and hotel industry with customers benefiting from targeted, personalised interactive content and customised travel itineraries. Virgin Hotels use a mobile technology platform that allows guests to customise their entire hotel experience, from giving guests the ability to stream content on their hotel TVs, to using the concierge reservation services and even adjust the air condition/temperature in their rooms.

Pat Fahy – Unicorn XP

It’s these kinds of real-time, data-driven, personalised experiences that are the most innovative and exciting areas of this trend. Today’s consumers want to buy experiences and they expect the very best, regardless of sector. They want all e-commerce to be as smooth as Amazon, and the customer service to be as as good as John Lewis. A brand is only as good as the last experience or connection you’ve had with them and if you don’t deliver, then someone else will.

The best way to create a frictionless, connecting offering and experience for a consumer is to have more information on the individual, from a data perspective, to give them a tailored, personalised offering. This can create the sort of experience that demonstrates how much a brand values their customer: listening to them, recognising they are individual and reacting to their needs in real-time. There are even some new digital products and platforms where their total business objectives have been built around a personalised offering for the consumer. Take the gifting app WhisperME – this allows you to create your own personalised shopping and gift lists which include anything from small domestic gifts such as perfumes to holiday ideas.

A lot of this depends on how brands use customer data and there’s been a lack of understanding about how best to do this in recent years. The word ‘data’ itself is a bit of a buzzword and sometimes has negative connotations, with people associating it with hacking and infringements on privacy. It’s also got a bad name when brands have used it just as a blatant sales tool, without thinking about the customer’s needs.

But now brands are starting to realise how the right use of data can deliver amazing, personalised and magical experiences to their consumers, driving brand loyalty in the process. Here are the five things brands should consider when creating data-driven, personalised experiences for their consumers.

1. Get the balance right

There is a really fine balance between gathering and using data to deliver a better customer experience, while also being seen to be protecting customer privacy. Achieving this is trickier than people first think. Today’s consumers have so many digital exchanges with brands they’ve developed an instinct for knowing how their data is being used and what they should expect in return. Brands who fail to deliver on their promises, or worse appear to be using the data for their own benefit only, run the risk of being snubbed by consumers.Data analysis graphic.

2. Be transparent

One of the ways of gaining consumer trust is to be completely transparent about how you’re gathering and using their data. We’ve all been tricked by clever campaigns, viral content and competitions into giving our email addresses and other basic details. But consumers are savvy about this now and increasingly tired of the sneaky approach. Instead, brands should be clear and direct at all points about what data they are interested in having from the consumer and how, in turn, this will help ensure the experience they get back in return is relevant and personalised to them.

3. Troubleshoot and maintain

While data-driven, personalised customer experiences have tremendous power to connect with consumers, they also have the ability to dis-connect with them if used poorly. If the wrong data is used in a customer interaction then you risk alienating them. Just think about how abrupt and disconnecting it can feel if someone gets your name wrong. Brands need to test and troubleshoot the algorithms they develop to check there are no glitches that could backfire and cause an unwelcome de-personalised experience instead.

4. Demonstrate value

Customers will have no problem sharing their data if they’re going to get something of value in return, and that value has to be related to getting a better experience. They will weigh up the value of their data versus the experience they get back and if there is no incentive for consumers to share their data, then they probably won’t. A lot of brands address this by being helpful or generous in return for customer data. Amazon have been doing it for years in a basic form by helpfully recommending other products based on your purchase and browsing history on the site, while supermarket store cards give you money off your most purchased items. Both use customer data to drive more purchases but are giving something of value back in return, whether it be discounts or helpful recommendations.

5. Stay relevant 

As well as being relevant to consumers, the experiences brands create also need to feel relevant to the brand itself. After all, it’s not enough for a brand to create any old experience. It has to be linked with the brand’s personality and values or it could end up jarring with the customer journey, instead of enhancing it. In this case, personalised brand experiences need to be born out of the brand’s core values and an understanding of how these values can, in turn, enrich the customer’s experience.

About the author: Spanning the past two decades, Pat has created agencies – such as Publicis Technology – then in the boom, started independent agency Oasis (later merged with Saatchi & Saatchi) – and continued integrating digital offerings into global agencies such as Lowe Live. During this time Pat built teams, launched and sold businesses (including Sonaa) and delivering award-winning creative on brands such as Stella Artois, HSBC, Saab, Unilever, Fiat, Lego and Guinness.

He was also Instrumental in bringing the digital and physical worlds together for famed London-based agency Seymourpowell. Through his work there, he enhanced their in-store customer experiences offering at multiple touch-points, and delivered IoT and wearable technologies for clients such as Superdry, Dominoes and Fenwicks. In addition to this, Pat ensured that digital was part of the brand DNA at inception, continuing across all touchpoints, for the likes of Christy, El Dorado and Flytoget.

Recently Pat co-founded Unicorn XP with Nazir Ulghani. Unicorn XP is an independent, London-based innovation agency, seeking to challenge the norm of the modern-day agency. Built from the blend of art and science, it is ‘data-driven and creatively led’ in its ‘human-first’ approach to innovation.