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On a recent Sunday morning, my 6-year-old son turned on the TV, launched Netflix, then turned to me with great satisfaction and said, “Dad, how does Netflix know me SO well?”

I laughed and replied, “That’s true. It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” What struck me about his glee is this is exactly the type of response that Netflix is hoping for as it leverages AI and machine learning to improve recommendations. It’s also exactly the type of response that all brands should aspire to achieve — make your customers truly feel valued and known.

It’s no wonder Netflix represents more than 35 percent of all internet traffic in North America and has about 75 million subscribers worldwide. By personalizing the experience for my son with his own browsing section, presenting only recent and relevant content based on his viewing preferences, and delivering a simple and clean UI/UX, Netflix nailed the experience and is creating brand loyalty that will last for decades to come.

If you are a marketer today, there is tremendous innovation in the AI software sector that has the potential to deliver better and better customer experiences. According to IDC, by 2019, 40 percent of digital transformation initiatives — and 100 percent of IoT initiatives — will be supported by AI capabilities. What’s challenging is the jargon that comes along with it. So often, marketing technology companies in the AI space throw out advanced terms and capabilities, but lose sight of the “why.” Just because you can do something — like sending a quasi-personalized email — should you do it? And how is that action helping the ultimate goal of making your customers feel valued and known?


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The secret life of data

Identity is the foundation of everything in modern digital-based marketing. It is also table stakes when it comes to AI. Netflix signals this every time you fire it up and are prompted with “Who is watching?” Blanket experiences are over. Inconsistent cookies that serve as a rough proxy to a user ID are over. Identity resolution and customer profile management are firmly upon us.

My son selects his Netflix profile. He’s going through a science phase, so Bill Nye and Planet Earth pop up. If this were last month, he’d be seeing The Ant Bully and A Bee Movie. Once you understand who your customer is, the relevance of the experience you deliver is paramount — and time is a factor. Consumers want you to know their preferences, behaviors, and transactions as they happen in real time, not some static view that was applicable several weeks or months ago. What shows did my son just watch, and what makes sense to recommend now based on that updated view of him as a customer?

Of course, when it comes to recommendations, Netflix provides seemingly better and better recommendations to my son with every movie he watches. The vast library and ease of access to that content is a game changer.

What not to do

It may seem obvious, but this value exchange is also the most forgotten element of a customer experience today. Just because you can send an email with someone’s name on it, or blast out a generic push message to a mobile device because someone left items in their shopping cart, doesn’t mean you are delivering value. If a consumer is giving you their time and attention, they expect something meaningful in return. This something can be as simple as a smooth and efficient user experience, or timely notifications with important information, or personalized offers and rewards.

Brands can also demonstrate their awareness and respect for consumers by knowing when not to do something. My son doesn’t pay for our Netflix subscription (yet), so those cost and upgrade offers go to me. And I don’t expect to get bombarded by offers via email, push notification, text message, web portal, and phone all at once. Communications are coordinated across teams to avoid overwhelming me with messages. Plenty of other companies still struggle with communication governance, which can result in the polar opposite of communications’ intended effect.

When asked, 68 percent of marketing leaders said their company is increasingly competing on the basis of customer experience. Yet only 23 percent said they’re extremely satisfied with their ability to leverage customer data to create a relevant experience. This is despite more than half saying that they already deploy AI technology. As teams continue to evaluate AI-driven marketing software, keeping Netflix’s example in mind can help guide purchase decisions. Then one day, your customers can wonder about how your brand can know them SO well.

Lars Albright is a former Apple executive and current chief executive officer and cofounder of SessionM, a company that provides a unique solution to customer data management.

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