December 4, 2017

What’s ‘Real-Time’ about Real-Time Personalisation?

5 minute read

They say time waits for no one – and that’s the idea at the heart of real-time personalisation. In this age of continuous communication, consumers have an ever-expanding array of ways to find out about and interact with your business, making it more difficult to tell which one they will choose to use next. Most of us are familiar with the concept of personalisation in marketing; adapting your message to suit your customers’ personal information, buying habits and historical relationship with you. Take a look at our blog on hyper-personalisation  for a refresher. Now we’re looking at what makes real-time personalisation ‘real-time’ and how it can offer the all-important personal touch at the drop of a hat, both on and offline.

What exactly is real-time personalisation?

Many businesses integrate aspects of personalisation into pre-planned outgoing marketing campaigns, such as email and text marketing, but what happens when customers approach you at will?

Real-time personalisation aims to bridge this gap, taking into account consumer unpredictability to provide a customised experience at any time and without a moment’s notice. It works to automatically alter the way content is presented to different types of customers on traditionally un-personalised channels, such as websites and in-store – in real-time. For example, using real-time personalisation, your website could recognise a visitor from a particular location and change its copy and images accordingly for them.  Maintaining tone of voice in terms of branding and key marketing messages, via a personal touch, helps to establish a consistent relationship with your customers that develops over time.

Who’s using real-team personalisation?

As ever, tech giants like Google and Amazon are leading the way, using incredibly sophisticated

However, other brands are also using real-time personalisation to great effect. Pepsi rewards customers who use fitness apps such as MapMyRun and Nexercise with a surprise bottle of Propel Fitness Water when they run a certain distance. As soon as the app records the required mileage, Pepsi sends the free of charge drink straight to the user’s registered address. Thanks to the way many apps are used; to track and record personal information, brands can partner with app developers to leverage this data and offer completely bespoke rewards based on individual exercise milestones, or even shopping lists.

A recent study into real-time personalisation and its uptake found that “only 16% of UK organisations are able to adjust their marketing communication in real-time based on customer behaviour, 17% can do so within a few hours, but 25% say it can take almost a day” (

Much of the reason for this is down to data, or more to the point, a lack of it. You can’t optimise your content for different sets of consumers without data about them, and you can’t do it in real-time without having a system that continually updates that data.

Furthermore, where there’s no single view of the customer, it’s even harder to gain and apply insights quickly. Consumers engage with brands across a range of media channels and these interactions occur so rapidly that to create personalised content in the moment for each one is all but impossible, while focusing on just channel can limit multiple opportunities for optimisation.

So, getting real-time personalisation right isn’t easy, but there is rich opportunity for businesses who manage to successfully incorporate it into their marketing strategies. Here are some examples of on and offline real-time personalisation in action.

Online real-time personalisation

Marketing automation software capable of online real-time personalisation works by using cookies and other tracking tools (noting IP addresses and other identifiers) to collect personal data about consumers. This data can then be used to categorise consumers into groups in order to show them the most suitable content live on a website or app whenever they access it.

Some of the most popular ways to personalise websites and apps in real-time include:

  • Geolocation – using a visitor’s country or regional location to show them the most relevant content, like the location of their nearest branch or local news stories.
  • Context – which looks at whether a visitor has visited your site before, and if so, how often. First-time visitors may want more direction, while frequent visitors may prefer to see the most up-to-date content.
  • Visitor behaviour – taking into account a visitor’s buying habits to make appropriate recommendations, such as similar products or articles by their preferred writers.
  • Customer service – providing helpful hints towards conversion, like items still in a visitor’s cart or reminding them that their favourite item is on sale.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s the world’s biggest companies that are doing this most effectively in real-time. The algorithms behind YouTube are constantly working to recommend video after video based on our changing preferences from one moment to the next, which is a large part of the reason why it’s so easy to spend hours watching them back to back. The more you watch the better they know you, and the more accurately the algorithms can predict what you’ll be interested in viewing next.

Starbucks is another global corporation getting involved in real-time personalisation. Having analysed regular customers’ buying habits, Starbucks sends bespoke offers and promotions to them via the app, just in time for their mid-afternoon coffee break (or whenever they most frequently visit). The app also suggests snacks which perfectly complement each customer’s drink of choice, with perhaps another discount to really sweeten the deal.

Offline, or in-store, real-time personalisation

Starbucks’ approach uses data to deliver in-store sales-boosting offers just as they’re needed, but there are more precise means of marketing to customers when they are nearby. Bluetooth ibeacons able to transmit to consumer smartphones can be placed wherever marketers want to target consumers, making it possible to send them personalised messages when their smartphone is picked up in-store. For wider areas, geofencing technology uses a mix of GPS, cellular data and Wi-Fi to create a virtual perimeter.

For example, customers, who have already downloaded a retail brand’s app  can be sent exclusive in-store offers and promotions as they browse, adding a further level of in-store customisation. Or, when an ibeacon detects a customer’s presence through the app on their device, it can then access data about their purchase history or activity on the same brand’s website, and make recommendations of similar products or reminders to check out items they may have taken an interest in online that they could now buy in person.  This is perhaps where real-time personalisation is most useful; when it crosses the gaps between marketing channels with a consistent message, all the while nudging the customer towards a conversion – true omnichannel marketing.

How will GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation affect real-time personalisation?

Real-time personalisation strives to identify largely anonymous on and offline consumers in order to give them a tailored experience, but to do this, it must use data. This data is gathered through cookies, IP addresses and other tracking tools, and when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy Regulation becomes law in May 2018, marketers will no longer be able to collect this information without people’s consent.

Take a look at our  What’s more, the kind of data processing necessary for real-time personalisation may come under ‘legitimate interest’ within GDPR; permissible as it enables businesses to provide a service beneficial to the customer.

There are also tools we can use to interact with consumers in real-time without the need to collect or store their data. Online countdown timers are an effective way of engaging customers and giving them a time-incentive to convert, although without a personalisation element. Consumers engage with their favourite brands across a range of media channels, these interactions occur so rapidly and therefore to create personalised content in the moment they cannot afford to limit themselves by optimising content for one channel.

So with this in mind there could maybe be a focus on the trade-off of sorts between, which channels companies enhance their content on and how this can affect the overall success of their real time personalisation attempts.

How can Quant help with real-time personalisation?

The ability to personalise your marketing in real-time and across channels comes down to the quality and flexibility of your data, which is where we can help. Get in touch to find out more about how Quant can help you make your data work for you.

Posted by Sarah Cumber


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What’s ‘Real-Time’ about Real-Time Personalisation?