In January, the online travel agent Kayak noticed an unusual trend emerging from its users. Since 2019, the brand has offered a feature to filter by specific models of aeroplanes, but its usage has been confined to a small section of flight enthusiasts. Now, following unfavourable headlines about Boeing’s recent safety record, usage of the aircraft-type filter has skyrocketed 15-fold. While this surge in popularity could be attributed to a particular event, its growth is nonetheless reflective of a phenomenon across the travel category: the consumer demand for personalisation and customisation is greater than ever.

Far flung from the days of reading glossy brochures at a local travel agent, many holidaymakers now take a ‘Goldilocks’ approach to travel planning, meticulously filtering down to the most granular level before ultimately deciding on the trip that is ‘juuust right’. Across hotel comparison sites, travellers can filter down everything from the size of a room’s bed to the view from the window. For long-legged comfort seekers, a custom Google Chrome extension displays the legroom of a seat before booking a flight. And since the pandemic, Booking.com has noted a surge in interest in ‘pet-friendly’ filters.

It’s not just the travel sector that has innovated to meet this behaviour change. Across sectors as disparate as fashion and pharmaceuticals, brands are utilising new technologies – such as 3D printing and machine learning – to serve customers with uber-personalised products, helping them to find the perfect fit, every time.

Implications for Brands

According to research by the US-based National Retail Federation (NRF), the demand for personalised experiences is being led by Millennials, of whom two-thirds of those surveyed said they like it when websites recommend tailored products or services to them. As noted in Forbes, as the scale and scope of first-party data collection grows, so having a sophisticated customer data platform becomes ever more essential for brands. In repeated studies, personalisation has been shown to drive increased ROI for brands. Research by Twilio into 12 global markets found that over half (56%) say they will repeat a purchase after receiving a personalised experience – a 7% rise year-on-year. Developments in AI are central to this growth, with more than two-thirds of business leaders increasing investment in personalisation as AI opens new avenues for tailored experiences.

Yet, despite the proliferation of 1PD collection in delivering personalised experiences to consumers, concerns about the harvesting and sharing of customer data abound. In the NRF study, nearly half of Millennials surveyed noted it was highly important for them to protect their online identity, as fears of data breaches have doubled in the past decade – with brands as varied as AT&T, Vans and the British Library all recently subjected to attacks from hackers.

For brands to satisfy their customers’ growing need for personalisation, investment in AI technologies and customer data platforms is essential. In addition, consumers have repeatedly demonstrated they are willing to change how they buy in reaction to global events – and as climate change and the transition to Net Zero grow in share of mind, so the need to make personalised, sustainable choices will become ever more apparent. But to fulfil the need, brands must also prioritise security concerns at the heart of personalisation investment. If brands are to develop long-term strategies to retain customers through personalised experiences, they must first demonstrate that they can be trusted to protect their customers – and the precious data they collect about them.