Customer-first: why securing investment for personalisation is priority for 2023

The economic climate makes the customer experience a core focus for brands and businesses in 2023, says new research from iCrossing, but barriers exist to pushing investment through.

Brand and agency-side marketers across every sector will have entered 2023 with caution. The economic climate more widely has been shaken by the war, tumultuous politics and rising inflation, and, locally in the UK, with festive train strikes impacting businesses hoping to regenerate the lost income from missed office Christmas parties and days out in 2021 due to COVID-19.

Coupled with a global unease and distrust from consumers and advertisers with the big tech firms, and more specifically social media platforms, means the last quarter of 2022 has seen dismal headlines about the status and fate of the large tech platforms, mired by redundancies and data and trust issues.

All this has served to build a landscape full of uncertainty for brands into how much and what type of technology they should invest in, and into the best way to communicate with their customers. Digital tools and platforms help marketers do their job better and quicker, with the technology designed to give their customers the most enriched experience possible. But for the risk averse in business, new technologies are likely to be one of the first cuts from 2023 budgets – even more so technologies such as AR, VR, new platforms that might not be as straightforward to justify return on investment (ROI) internally.

What seems clear, is that businesses cannot afford to simply pause on planning and investment, and that those businesses mindful of navigating the economic climate and marketing spend whilst keeping their customers front of mind will reap the most rewards – technology can enable this.

iCrossing conducted research with YouGov that explored the intentions and priorities for senior marketers towards digital transformation projects in 2023. This highlighted that whilst a large proportion recognise the importance of investing in digital transformation as a key driver for business success, they are faced with a number of barriers to achieving their ambitions. A priority for this investment for many was streamlining the customer experience, identifying personalisation as a priority and the importance of access to customer data to deliver this.

What even is ‘digital transformation’?

A Gartner report highlights the importance for businesses of planning and expenditure in digital infrastructure platforms, but what digital transformation means will be different for every business, and also by industry.

Accenture describes digital transformation as ‘the process by which companies embed technologies across their businesses to drive fundamental change’, resulting in ‘increased efficiency, greater business agility and, ultimately, the unlocking of new value for employees, customers and shareholders’.

Sounds sensible. But surely the temptation for many marketers would be to stick with the tried and tested tools?

The opportunities and investment levels are vast. For some, simply investing in social platforms such as Snapchat and Twitter and ramping up their PPC and SEO may be enough. For others, delving into the opportunities presented by the metaverse, AI and drilling deeper into their content strategy might be the next step. The core focus should be in understanding the audience – where and how to reach your customers – to engage and motivate.

Personalisation and customers first

Our research with YouGov revealed that a third surveyed in large companies see personalisation as a priority in 2023.

Marketers are recognising the importance of building and retaining strong customer relationships – even more important as we head into this challenging financial period for consumers. What stood out was the recognition by these respondents that access to customer data is key to delivering this, with almost a third stating that a customer data platform (CDP) will be an important technology investment for 2023.

Faced with the cost of living crisis, savvy businesses are clearly willing to entertain the concept of digital transformation if it can help them understand and communicate with their customers better.

Barriers to – and measures of – success

Those marketing decision makers surveyed seem clear on the key drivers for investing in digital transformation projects and they expect high returns from any investment. More than half cited increased revenue – and indeed specified a profit uplift of 15% or more – as a successful outcome. The biggest concern is that almost a fifth of those marketers we spoke to felt unable to measure the effectiveness of digital transformation within their business.

This is where CDP technology comes in. For businesses facing budget cuts and greater reporting needs, it is crucial to measure the success of your investments and the key to this is understanding your data effectively, knowing what to measure and where. Key to this is the appropriate CDP technology.

It seems decision makers are facing multiple barriers to delivering on digital transformation, such as internal silos, company politics, and attracting talent. Some specific feedback we received was that their CEO didn’t buy into or understand the benefits. Attracting and retaining digital talent also remains a threat to businesses achieving their digital transformation ambitions.

Demonstrate the benefits of investing in digital transformation

What really stands out is that with such a high percentage of businesses seeing digital transformation and customer experience as a priority, the fact that many CEOs don’t understand the benefit or have the willingness to invest is shocking, and suggests marketers chances of success in pushing change through is challenged.

When set against a backdrop of skills gaps, lack of investment, but also very high and perhaps sometimes unrealistic expectations, pushing through budgets allocated to digital transformation can be seen as a big ask. Outstanding leadership, people who can demonstrate and speak about the benefits of the business and make a compelling case for sustained investment, will be key for marketers to deliver successful digital transformation in 2023.

Roger Barr

Chief Digital Officer