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Why Personalized Consumer Experiences are so Sticky

Updated: May 1, 2023

We all like to feel as though we make informed decisions when it comes to how we spend our consumer dollars. Maybe we justify a purchase by saying it "was a steal" or "a great value" or "high quality."

But our brains don't always make an entirely conscious choice - in fact, research has shown that consumer behavior is driven by subtle unconscious emotional influences. The very definition of branding is the emotional relationship a business has with its customers. It’s the subconscious or semiconscious feeling you get when you think of the products or see the logo. The colors, shapes and even fonts used in the branding often evoke emotional responses.

However, despite the marketing efforts of the company, the feeling you experience when you see the logo is defined by your experiences. Look at the logos below. How does each make you feel? If, for example, if UPS lost the Christmas sweater you sent Aunt Sally in the family gift exchange, your emotional response will have little to do with the psychology behind the color brown and more to do with looking like a shmuck in front of the family.

emotional response to logos

Customers don't value the brand; they value the experience they have with the brand - in other words, how the brand makes them feel. While technology enables countless ways for companies to connect with customers, the bottom line is that a more personalized experience makes the customer feel more important and makes the brand more meaningful and memorable. Isn’t that the holy grail of brand identity?

Dale Carnegie's sixth principle in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Since the initial publication in 1936, we have good hard data to support Dale Carnegie's theory. Study after study shows that consumer experiences are better when the message is personalized. According to SaleForce’s State of the Connected Consumer report, personalization isn’t nice to have, it’s an essential feature of a good customer experience.

Customers expect brands to remember their names and preferences throughout their customer journey. 84% of more than 6,700 people surveyed said that being treated like a person, not a number is important to winning their business and customers are 2.1 times more likely to perceive personalized offers as more valuable than non-personalized offers.

Restaurant servers who introduce themselves by name and call customers by name create a personal connection that increases tips by more than 10%.

Personalized doctor appointment reminders

Authors, Robert Cialdini, Steve Martin, and Noah Goldstein share another personalization study in their book, The Small BIG. Researchers analyzed a simple change to text message appointment reminders from doctor’s offices. Simply adding the first name to the message cut the no-shows by 57%.

Personalized collections text messages

Another experiment showed that adding the recipient’s first name to a text message boosted the response rate for collections, too – an increase of 43%. That simple little change generated a big return.

Coca-Cola may be one of personalization masters. The soft drink company was no stranger to challenges in the 2000s, from health to environmental concerns. In an attempt to boost sales and resuscitate their brand perception, they launched a massive campaign called ‘Share a Coke’ in 2013. The campaign involved putting 250 of the country’s most popular names on their bottles and encouraging customers to find a personalized bottle, share with friends, and post photos using the hashtag #shareacoke.

The campaign generated great success for Coca-Cola and sparked a huge response on social media, with 53% of conversations on Twitter during the campaign showing positive sentiment, compared with 25% negative and 21% neutral.

Share a Coke campaign

Starbucks Strikes Gold in the Human Social Experience

If you think that Starbucks’ system of hand-writing customer’s names on the cups and calling them out for pick-up is a result of being technology challenged, think again. Their mobile app is genius - it pokes you when you're near a store, gently nudging you to c'mon in for what you didn't even know you were jonesing for a minute ago, and then come back to do it again tomorrow without ever associating the experience with a cost.

Starbucks doesn't have to track orders "old-school." Surely, somewhere in their system there is a way to print a sticky ticket and slap it on the cup. But, from a neuroscience perspective, creating a customer experience that identifies the customer by name numerous times – both spoken and hand-written – is pure gold.

That tiny little detail checks all the boxes for a satisfying human experience. SCARF is an acronym for five domains of human social experience.

  • Status is about relative importance to others – asking for your name instead of giving you a receipt with an order number immediately raises your status.

  • Certainty concerns being able to predict the future – writing your name on the cup right there in front of you gives you a sense of certainty that a barista is going to prepare your cup of java just how you want it.

  • Autonomy provides a sense of control over events – having the freedom to wander the store while you listen for your name to be called meets your need for autonomy.

  • Relatedness is a sense of safety with others, of friend rather than foe – that smiling employee who delivers a personalized cup of goodness could almost be your friend, right?

  • Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people – the experience begins and ends with a personal exchange that involves your name.

Dale Carnegie would be proud, indeed.



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