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Comfy Old Boots and Collector Sneakers: How to Use Your Customers’ Existing Tastes to Shape New Product Recommendations

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Few things in life are more satisfying than sharing something new with an old friend. But as much as we all enjoy getting new things — and giving them to those we love — we also have a hard time letting go of certain things we already have.

Sometimes we hang onto odds and ends that seem as if they might be useful someday (even though they often just take up space in the junk drawer). But we also hold onto possessions whose value really does grow with age: old family photos, childhood keepsakes, and worn-in sweaters that fit just right.

Our relationships with brands follow a similar pattern. We love discovering new products — but only when they fit with the ones we already love.

I doubt any of us would give up all our favorite clothes, furniture and electronics in exchange for brand-new ones — nor would we venture out to try new restaurants and clothing stores if it meant we had to stop supporting the tried-and-true companies who’ve always treated us well.

We want the best of both worlds — a lifestyle in which old products and new brands can coexist and complement one another.

Here’s what this means for your approach to product marketing, and the ways you construct journeys for your customers.

You meet each of your customers in the midst of their own pre-existing journeys.

Some marketers talk about “The Customer Journey” as if it’s a process that starts at the first stage of their sales funnel, and ends at the moment they make a conversion. The truth is, though, that every customer has been on their own unique retail journey from the first time they ever went shopping — and for brands they trust, that journey will continue for decades into the future.

What’s more, even a customer’s journey with your brand is influenced by many other products and services — not only those of your direct competitors, but a whole universe of lifestyle elements that shape their decisions.

For example, a shopper who buys every component of an outfit except the sweater — pants, shoes, jacket and hat — may baffle your algorithm when she expresses complete disinterest in all the matching sweaters you suggest. What your software might not know, though, is that she’s specifically shopping for items to match a beloved old sweater she found in her mother’s closet.

Even when you don’t have direct access to data about your customers’ old sweaters, a smart machine-learning system should be able to infer those insights from each shopper’s purchase patterns — so you can meet them exactly where they are on their unique journeys through life.

Customers who prefer the “old” in some areas may want the “new” in others.

Back in the early days of online marketing, many of us found it helpful to box our customers into personas, and describe them as “early adopters” or “laggards.” Aside from the fact that I don’t know anyone who’d want to be described as a “laggard,” these categories willfully ignore much of the nuance and complexity in the actual purchase patterns we observe.

A customer who loves her comfortable old boots, for example, may never be in the market for new hiking shoes, no matter how many other hiking-related products she buys. But that very same customer may also collect limited-edition sneakers — and she may always be first in line to buy the latest pair, long after your algorithm insists she surely must be suffering from product fatigue.

If you try to force complex people into overly simplistic boxes, you’re not only leaving a massive amount of revenue on the table — you’re also throwing away opportunities to build deeper trust with your customers.

Approach every out-of-the-ordinary purchase as a chance to surprise your customers with magically spot-on recommendations. You’ll strengthen their loyalty to your brand, while fostering healthier relationships that’ll far outlast your current campaign.

Customers who want the “old” today may be ready for the “new” next month.

Every now and then, we all wake up one morning and decide we’re tired of looking at that same old haircut in the mirror. For some of us, this happens almost every year — while others only change hairstyles a few times in their whole lives. But until the moment we make that decision for ourselves, not even the world’s most charismatic barber could talk us into an unwanted trim.

Our research has found that this same principle holds true for decisions about many kinds of purchases, from shoes and jackets to phones and computers: customers make a purchase when they feel it’s the right moment — and not a second earlier.

That’s why, instead of just repeating the same offers, the latest campaign optimization software is designed to watch for lifestyle changes that might signal a readiness to try something new. When that critical moment arrives, the software generates a personalized email that speaks up in support of that customer’s uniquely evolving taste.

From the moment our software “meets” a new subscriber, we strive to fit into the existing rhythm of the journey they’re already on — and greet them with new recommendations that complement the existing products they love. Time and again, we’ve found that this approach builds meaningful connections that keep customers coming back.

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