Dreamforce 2016, Salesforce.com's user and developer conference held at the Moscone Convention Center and various hotels in San Francisco from October 3-7, 2016. (© Photo by Jakub Mosur Photography)

True Religion exec on the challenges of personalization

Denim brand's SVP takes the stage at this year's Dreamforce conference in California

Personalization may be hot in marketing, but many marketers have yet to figure out how it applies to brand communications.

Speaking at Dreamforce in San Francisco on Tuesday, True Religion’s John Hazen said the denim brand had seen great returns from personalizing product marketing, but still grappled with customizing large-scale ad campaigns – a challenge felt by marketers across a number of industries.

With brand campaigns, marketers want to tell big, over-arching stories. Customizing campaigns by segment, with special cuts for women or millennials, can dilute the message and produce a “half-baked” story, said Hazen, senior vice-president of direct to consumer and omnichannel marketing.

On the product side, however, the company has proven there’s plenty to gain from personalization. For the past year, True Religion has been part of a test group of brands using a new artificial intelligence tool from Salesforce called Einstein. Built into the software giant’s marketing suite, Einstein uses machine learning to improve everything from email to recommendations.

The tool’s algorithm learns what tactics work on each customer, then serves them recommendations, push notifications and emails based on their behaviour.

“It runs itself,” Hazen said. “We can actually set very few rules and let the AI learn and make those recommendations to each consumer individually. It truly is personalization around what that consumer looked at this time, last time and what they may look at next time they come to the site.”

In the beta period, 125 brands used Einstein-powered tools on their ecommerce sites and saw between a 7% and 16% lift in revenue per visitor on average, according to Salesforce. Making recommended items smarter and more customized alone led, on average, to a 15% increase in revenue per visitor.

In Canada, a PwC report from earlier this year showed consumers now expect personalized communications — and for brands and retailers to know who they are as they move between physical stores, online sites and social media. Most Canadian retailers still aren’t delivering on that front, according to the report.

Looking forward, Hazen said AI could help True Religion personalize communications based on how customers consumed social content. While brand campaigns may demand a unified approach, social is a space where brands are telling smaller scale stories on the fly.

By learning what social content customers like and interact with, brands may soon be able to serve them similar content on websites and online stores, creating a custom visual experience. This is the route Hazen sees to customizing brand communications, rather than personalizing campaign assets such as video spots.

As True Religion gears up to launch a new ad campaign with NBA player Russell Westbrook in the coming weeks, the company has no plans to inject personalization into the roll out. Hazen said there’s still power in a unified message when it comes to brand marketing.

“If you’re a man, a woman, a child or a dog, we’re going to show you Russell Westbrook.”

Photography by Jakub Mosur for Salesforce
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