People first, platform second


By Chris Owen

The Web Summit has become much more than its name perhaps suggests - it's a melting pot of the great and the good of the investment, VC, and advisory world, as well as the place to see some of the most innovative, intriguing and… er… "unique" startups in the technology, digital, social, and mobile space.

However, milling around the Web Summit in Dublin last week, one theme began to emerge: how almost every sector is now putting data at the core of their technology. This may not necessarily be wholesale "new", but there was a defined switching between audience-adapting-to-platform to platform-adapting-to-audience, with data the root cause.

Data is useless without insight. So it was refreshing to see it captured smartly - used to identify behavioural trends - and then, importantly, develop tangible actions off the back of them, so that users have the most to gain, rather than the business. 

In taking such a "people first" approach, many of the companies at the conference showed how far the industry has come towards the holy grail of personalisation since the word first started to spring up a decade ago in tech circles. Of course, within "personalisation" there's a double-bind in that consumers want the personal concierge type service, yet are reticent about giving away the data/insight which is fundamentally necessary. We’re a greedy society like that in some respects. Privacy scares and data hacks continue to erode this trust further of course, and do little to change perception.

From discussions with startups at the Summit, there are now myriad means by which personalisation is being tackled, which look set to deliver more bespoke services. The hub model is one which was visible at a number of stands - for example, EME bridges the various elements of joining a company and mapping your own career within it, ensuring various HR-related services which envelope employees at a big business are brought together under one roof in the form of a mobile app. Why does this matter? Well, for the thousands of people working within an organisation, the personalised approach is all too rare - their boss's boss might know their name, but not the face. What if, a fortnight before joining, they get a personalised video welcome message on their phone? It shows the company isn't just employing another cog. 

If you work somewhere you don’t feel valued, you leave. As EME CEO Nader Iskander put it: "Mobile has become a very personal part of all our lives and being recognised instantly and visibly among peers is of immense value, across branches, divisions, and geographies." Basically, you want people to know who you are.

Zuora is an enterprise SaaS outfit pioneering in the subscription space by collecting data from a variety of partners and media to understand individual habits and preferences, as part of what their EMEA marketing manager Elizabeth Glover described as "the subscription economy". In this instance, partners can analyse, for example, Netflix user habits and push promotions individually as a means of incentive or reward.

Weblib, similarly, are looking at the reward opportunity, albeit within retail. Weblib captures shoppers' habits via wifi access, then when the customer later returns to the store, the retailer can push offers and benefits in-store. It ticks the personalised opportunity without compromising the data aspect: shoppers choose to receive vouchers when the wifi recognises them being in-store. It could work for products, or equally it could work for the beleaguered husband being dragged around the store looking at endless dresses by the wife - send him a voucher for coffee and cake at the upstairs café and give him a sit down. And yes, this is the voice of experience.

Elsewhere, data is being used to tackle the age-old issue of missing a parcel delivery, by flipping the model from delivering to an address to delivering to a person. This is being done by the team at Parcify - a concept so obvious once explained it makes you wish you came up with it. Instead of a driver going to an address, which could be empty, and leaving a "sorry we missed you" card, the driver knows where the recipient is and can liaise direct to agree where they want it delivered.

Personalisation is nothing new, but by using data cleverly to derive unique insight, rather than large scale macro-demographics, it's becoming increasingly sophisticated. Privacy concerns are being addressed. With so much to gain, it's time we accepted personalisation is happening and used it for our own gain.


Chris Owen (@wonky_donky) is a Director at Grayling, an integrated communications company, where he specialises in technology PR, social, and behavioural trends.