How Retailers Can Think Like Don Draper When Using AI

  • July 18, 2019 at 12:00 PM EDT
  • By Rasmus Skjoldan, Magnolia CMS
0aaaRasmus Skjoldan Magnolia
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In the first season of AMC’s Mad Men, ad exec Don Draper met with Kodak executives to introduce a campaign around their Carousel slide projector. What followed was perhaps the most moving pitch of his career.

Instead of touting the product’s revolutionary features, which were sure to excite any buyer, Draper centered his pitch around a more potent emotion: nostalgia. He loaded the projector with photos of his wedding day, his pregnant wife, his children on his shoulders and swinging on a swing. Grown men wept. The executives were speechless.

Draper hit on a universal point that today’s brands would be wise to remember. “Technology is a glittering lure,” he told the executives. “But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash — if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”


At a time when hyper-targeted marketing is king, retailers should take care to maintain the “personal” in personalization. All the targeted messaging in the world won’t matter if customers aren’t able to forge a connection with your brand from the outset, or if those targeted messages diverge from your brand story.

Artificial intelligence is more than a “glittering lure”; it also can be applied to help establish a personal connection. Leverage AI to create these personal experiences that remain true to your brand’s core messaging and mission and you will be a step closer to communication that feels real and that carries more value.

Experiences That Meet Consumers’ Needs

While data privacy and security rightly are big concerns for many consumers, their attitudes around the marketplace of data are evolving. As many as 62% of American consumers say that sharing data and personal information online is part of the modern economy, and 58% are happy to do so under the right circumstances.

What are these “right circumstances”? Experiences where consumers see a clear payoff or benefit to sharing their data. These benefits don’t always need to be hyper-personalized — they just need to feel like a thoughtful, personal touch. For example, one Magnolia client, a large retailer, analyzed its customers’ behavior and found that one of the top three questions when entering the store was the location of the restroom. The retailer then tweaked its mobile app to show a pathway to the restroom once a guest entered a store’s geofence.

Experience That Ask About Consumers’ Desires

Consumers like to be asked for their opinions — but they also want the experience to be straightforward. Consider video streaming web sites like Netflix that leverage a simple thumbs-up or down rating system to determine viewers’ preferences. It’s a split-second review system that’s paired with viewing history to divide Netflix’s customers not into stereotypical demographic categories, but nearly 2,000 “microclusters.” How’s that for personal?

While retailers could easily apply such an algorithm to their own sites — allowing customers to give a thumbs-down to tropical prints, for example, and eliminate such clothing from their shopping experience — few have done so. Instead, shoppers who have created a profile on a retailer’s site still are flooded with information they don’t want or need. Retailers need to use AI to act more like a personal shopping companion — who knows a buyer’s taste and shows them the perfect blouse — than a faceless vendor.

Experiences That Spark Consumers’ Imaginations

Due to a lack of personalization, the browsing experience on many retail web sites is relatively standardized, no matter the industry. Customers follow a series of menu prompts to arrive at an AI-curated page of well-tagged products, much like browsing a catalog or walking through a hardware store.

But recent innovations like Instagram Shopping have opened the door to a new world of possibilities for retailers to tell a personal story instead of simply presenting their slates of options. Beauty retailer Glossier, valued at $1 billion after less than 10 years, is a prime example of such a success story. The company started in 2010 as a blog, “Into the Gloss,” and maintains that aesthetic and user experience today across all digital platforms. Homepage features include real-life users’ makeup routines packaged as short stories with purchase buttons for every featured product.

By positioning themselves as a lifestyle rather than a brand, retailers can integrate themselves into the personal fabric of customers’ lives. But the struggle lies in making this transition from brand to lifestyle trendsetter — feeling like the social media account of a friend or influencer instead of a vendor.

The best social media advertisers tell a story that makes shoppers pause and watch instead of scrolling through — and with Instagram Shopping revenues estimated to hit $10 billion in 2021, it’s not an audience retailers can afford to ignore. Instead of continuing their current strategies, retailers should prioritize marketers with a strong background in storytelling who will be able to humanize a brand.

The opportunity to improve the state of personalized experiences is vast, but still at the very early stages. This is primarily due to the uniqueness of individuals themselves — there are far too many variations for any human to be able to pair up contents and experiences. It’s also an area where AI will shine, combing through historical data to understand cross-segmentation and user matching.

With AI doing the heavy lifting on the back end, retail marketers will have more time to focus on using storytelling to forge the kind of personal brand-human connections that would make Don Draper proud.


Rasmus Skjoldan is the Chief Marketing Officer at Magnolia CMS, working out of Copenhagen and Basel. Skjoldan works to lead global marketing, product management, analyst relations and UX. He brings a wealth of experience in the area of content hubs and omnichannel content management to the table. A former brand manager of TYPO3, Skjoldan was user experience lead of the TYPO3 Neos open source project before running Cope, a Copenhagen-based content strategy consultancy.

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