"Evolve. Evolve now” – that’s what Simon Farthing, Director of Global Strategy and Insights, Monetate, is telling UK businesses and brands who currently feel disconnected from their customers. When it comes to design, marketers often fall into the trap of designing one creative treatment for a defined audience.
Although it may aim to appeal to different people, the creative is still a single output for everyone. An example of this is having the same creative display in all store locations or having one radio advert being played across the airways in different counties. This same level of homogenous method of design is often applied to digital channels such as websites and apps.
Staying with homogenous design carries real risk: the consequence of continuing to strive for the best average experience, instead of a truly personalised output, is that you expose your business to extinction risk, whether you design for entire audiences, or against segments.
Extinction risk is when your business becomes vulnerable to change to such a degree that it may not be able to survive environmental fluctuations, no matter how small. This may not sound like a real problem you are facing—nobody thinks they’re vulnerable to change until they’re tested by a real event—but what makes it a threat is that it can be masked by things that would otherwise be indicators of a very healthy business. It’s at the moment when you’re seeing great growth and revenue, when you’ve identified and connected with a loyal customer base and seem to be firing on all cylinders, that the seeds for this kind of disaster are planted.
So how can you recognise the signs, and make sure that your current strategy is setting you up for a long future of growth—instead of short-term boom followed by a bust in the long term? The key to beating extinction risk is in diversity: you need to build diversity into your approaches for design, audience, and business. Let me explain.
Designing for diversity
If you present a creative offering to a group, people will inevitably react to it differently. If it’s a “good” design, it will be a perfect fit for some and a very good fit for most of the audience, but even design that is mostly successful will miss the mark for some people.
The problem with homogenous design is that it doesn’t allow us to learn from that distribution of responses: when you assess the design’s performance using average revenue or conversion rate, the nuanced range of reactions is flattened and hidden behind a single metric. You lose insight into your customers, who you’re missing and how to reach them better.
But by giving people only one creative option and measuring whether it did well or poorly, you’re using blunt tools that produce blunt insights. That’s why producing and using multiple creative designs can bring benefits: you can serve your audience better in the moment, and what you learn about them in the process will help you strategise better in the future.
Embrace audience diversity
Diversity of a customer base it isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it has the potential to give you a strong advantage. Homogenous design tries to solve the diversity of a group of customers by serving singular creative options to your audience, but also means you will endear those that resemble the average and likely alienate those outside it. Designs that are tailored towards the average encourage customers to conform more to the average of the group. Specialising in the needs of that group may bring short-term gains, but over time you will wind up with a smaller and less diverse audience as those that aren’t responsive to the creative drop off. If you continue to iterate on that, eventually all your customers start to look alike. This is not good.
Extinction risk in marketing is much like the risk we see in the biological world. If your core customers share many of the same characteristics, any major change in the environment—like a disease, habitat destruction or (more realistically) major economic changes—is likely to affect all of them at once. Since change is constant, it is a matter of “when,” not “if”. You risk your most reliable revenue-generating customers, since those that were not responsive to the singular design are long gone, and your business may struggle to recover. On the contrary if you can maintain appeal with a heterogenous audience, the inevitable changes that come along will have much less potential impact. In fact, they may even help you reach more people and grow your business. With heterogenous approaches, you can transform the risk of extinction into an opportunity for growth.
Keeping your business booming
When your designs and your audience lose diversity, your business will adapt around those conditions. In other words, as the feedback loop of homogenous design and homogenous audience becomes more extreme, your entire business becomes more prone to extinction risk. Again, a metaphor for this can be found in the natural world.
Cheetahs have developed a high level of specialisation: they run faster than any other land animal, and they are fierce predators. However, despite these remarkable skills, they are extremely vulnerable to extinction. Shrinking populations due to habitat destruction and human interference have left a very homogenous gene pool. In 1983, a single virus led to the death of half of the formerly “productive and healthy” cheetah population. Low genetic variability left them without the ability to adapt.
This risk affects predators who over-specialise and become dependent on the conditions that enabled them to thrive in the first place. If one species finds that they can rely completely on another as a food source, for example, they might hone their hunting abilities specifically for that particular prey instead of diversifying their skills. It’s easy to see why this option seems appealing: it provides the easiest and most immediate rewards. Marketers do the same things when they focus on improving design only for the central population of the customer base. But if something else comes along and wipes out that food source, the elite predator goes with it.
Not only does a homogenous approach leave your business at risk of becoming just an ordinary competitor within its market, but it could cause your audience to shrink. However, taking a heterogeneous approach that embraces the diversity of your audience will offer the complete opposite: it will foster growth in all audiences, extend your reach further than expected and keep your business at the forefront of the market. This is reason that personalisation works.
Decisions about your experience design should ensure there’s something for everyone. It’s essential for your business to be able to weather the seasons of change, and this can be done through reaching a diverse audience and building relationships with them individually.
Simon Farthing is the Director of Global Strategy and Insights, at personalisation experts Monetate. Simon’s career has taken him from CRM, to marketing effectiveness, data science, and to emerging areas such as wearables, IOT and smart homes. He has previously held positions at Carphone Warehouse, Profusions and Rayovac, and is now pushing the boundaries of omnichannel personalisation at Monetate.