If there was just one lesson to be learned from Barbie-mania this year, it’s this: when a brand connects with its audience, the possibilities are endless. The Barbie phenomenon has been an interesting one given the current economic climate we are in where cost of living pressures is forcing consumers to tighten their purse strings.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently reported that Australian Retail sales volume fell 0.5 per cent in the June quarter 2023, making it the third quarter in a row to see a fall. It is the first time since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 that retail sales volumes have recorded three consecutive quarterly falls.

Despite this, Barbie-mania kicked in full effect, raking in $21 million on its opening weekend in Australia, with huge rippling effects in the retail sector as Australians were in frenzy buying merchandise products from clothes to shoes and even dolls.

Barbie’s success can be attributed to the fact that it tugged at the heartstrings of adult consumers with nostalgia, emotional attachment and its modern-day appeal. These elements are what consumers value and is a pivotal lesson for brands to navigate towards, placing consumers at the centre of their marketing strategy.

Connecting with consumers today

To connect with consumers, brands need to first understand what consumers value. There remains a real and persistent gap between the experience brands think they are delivering, and the one that consumers actually want. Brands must embrace an approach that prioritises the consumer’s needs and preferences throughout their purchasing journey. By harnessing the power of data, brands can accurately identify consumers’ evolving needs and understand what appeals to their emotional side, forging an impactful connection at different touchpoints of their purchasing journey.

In addition to consumer data, a comprehensive understanding of psychographic factors is also at play in identifying campaign strategies that consumers will respond to. But real value is driven when personalisation occurs – brands that engage with their customers through personalised communication create deeper resonance and drive impactful connections.

This can be established by cohering the data at-hand into actionable insights to drive personalisation – such as through identity resolution solutions that build cookieless private identity graphs for cross-channel targeting, personalised marketing and accurate measurements. This will help inform brands on the type of personalisation strategies to employ that will effectively engage their customers.

Brands can also do this through its rewards and loyalty programmes. A recent National Australia Bank insight highlighted that Australians are identifying ways to maximise loyalty programmes as the cost of living pressure heightens. Honing on this, brands can deliver exceptional customer experience by being aware of consumers’ pain points and crafting personalised solutions that can address their needs.

Harnessing AI for a lasting impact

Artificial intelligence (AI), specifically generative AI has become a pivotal part of many businesses in the recent months, with many stakeholders investing more time and money into looking at AI technology to help increase customer engagement. AI can inform and create personal experiences at scale whilst leveraging first-party data, aiding brands to deliver impactful customer experiences, specifically to each target market. AI technology can also create an omnichannel marketing platform, allowing brands to seamlessly deliver consistent experiences at every touchpoint.

The use of AI presents an incredible opportunity for brands to take their customer experience to greater heights. There are solutions available that harnesses large knowledge models whilst leveraging large language models on its client’s proprietary data. With this, brands have access to valuable insights, audience breakdown and creative recommendations with an intuitive chat-based interface. This further enhances the personalised experience for every consumer.

By breaking down consumer data and insights, brands are empowered to make efficient decisions – one that focuses on personalisation and enhancement strategies. Furthermore, AI can help brands distinguish itself by anticipating needs even before the customer and respond in a timely manner.  However, when implementing AI in its operations, businesses bear the responsibility to operate AI ethically as unethical or biased marketing practices, even unintentionally is the easiest way to lose a customers’ trust.

Future proofing customer experience strategy

Brands will need to invest in technology to innovate and deliver consistent customer experience. A brand’s customer experience infrastructure should include customisation, integration with best-fit technology, built-in testing, real-time optimisation and a connected-cloud architecture.

At the same time, it needs to invest in its people to provide the human element needed to support the customer experience infrastructure to optimise the technology, identify the audiences and design creative content and messaging to engage customers in an orchestrated moment.

As consumers’ needs rapidly evolve, coupled with an uncertain economic climate, AI solutions can aid brands in developing customer strategies to adopt accordingly to drive personalisation. Therefore, brands need to understand the value AI brings to their business and invest accordingly.

With more insights and customer data, brands can develop more engaging moments for every customer, and this will occupy a place in customers’ mind, gaining a distinct competitive advantage.

It has never been more crucial for a brand to evolve its personalisation strategies especially in today’s highly competitive and dynamic market. Brands need to focus on future proofing their customer experience strategy into 2024 by assessing; carrying out an audit to better understand how AI is being used in the decision-making process, evaluate; identify any potential biases in decision-making and change; adopt a more inclusive approach to audience-based targeting.

By employing a personalised communication strategy that is informed with customer data and AI insights, brands are addressing the needs of consumers directly. This in turn can convince consumers that the brand is listening and understands them.

John Riccio is CEO at Merkle Asia Pacific.