Look at 10 different marketing blogs and you’ll see 10 different recommendations on how to embark on your personalization journey. We happen to like this validation because it places the customer first and at the center of our marketing efforts. So we’re going to put in our two cents as well and add a few use cases and questions to consider about your company’s personalization strategies. First, a few tenets to keep in mind:
- Online personalization is a team effort and building the right team across multiple disciplines is essential.
- Data and measurement as a whole will be the foundation for understanding how you perform and how you can improve.
- Personalization is not a paradigm shift for your business – you can start small to see if you achieve your goals and then build on that success.
In our Path to Personalization series, we discussed key barriers to personalization, timely trends, as well as our framework for digital marketing advancement. The framework lays out the five areas of digital marketing that are necessary for delivering a personalized experience and what maturity or advancement means in each one. Now we can start on some of the best practices that are crucial as you define your own path. Let’s get started!
- Define Your Goals
Personalization is a journey of multiple stages and goals, not a single destination. When you’re starting out, you’ll want to ask yourself a set of questions, such as how will site personalization:
- Help you achieve your goals for your digital business?
- Deliver greater value to your customers?
- Derive greater value from existing business?
You can answer each of these questions in a number of ways as it relates to marketing ROI, cross-channel consistency, lifetime value, cross-sell and upsell potential, customer experience, retention, acquisition or channel conversion. For example, if you’re a financial services company, some of your goals might look like this:
- Increase loyalty club members by 20 percent
- Increase campaign effectiveness by 17 percent
- Increase email registration by 7 percent
- Build a Team
Once you know personalization is for you, your first step was to define your goals and now you can decide what you need to deliver them – be that data, people or both.
Similar to optimization, personalization requires a team effort because it relies heavily on data and providing a heightened customer experience. Optimization is often focused on “tweaking” elements of the web experience and is predominantly based on a “one size fits all” approach. With a greater reliance on understanding behavior it is imperative that you build a team capable of contributing a solid understanding of the many different disciplines needed to drive personalization. This may include a selection from the following:
- Data Analysts
- Content Writers
- UX design
- Brand Managers
- Align Personalization With Customer Info and Expectations
By now, you’re committed to delivering a personalized experience to your customers, you’ve established goals, and have your team and tools in place. Your next step is to scale your personalization efforts appropriately based on the type of information you have on your customers and what they might expect from any interaction with you or your business. Time to ask:
- What level of personalization is expected from my customers? Will personalization differentiate their experience online or through email?
- Will too much personalization alienate our customers?
- Would segment-driven, persona-driven or individualized personalization provide the most value?
Once you answer those questions, you’ll be able to focus your efforts on the areas that will have the most impact and figure out what types of information or offers would be well received by your customers. Perhaps you decide that your website is where customers expect a personal touch or that email retargeting within an hour of an abandoned cart is too late or too soon to reengage that customer. Every customer is a snowflake and you must find enough commonalities among them to determine how you personalize.
- Select Data Sets/Customer Attributes to Monitor
Now you can get a bit more granular to decide on key customer attributes that are critical for you to deliver that desired experience. Data is the key component in personalization and you should start out by utilizing easily accessible data based on small segments of your visitors. This will enable you to gain measurable success reasonably quickly and increase the stickiness of your visitor. If you begin with current in-session behavior-based data, you can build up to adding historical behavior as your personalization efforts progress. Now you must determine which types of customer data are required to meet customer expectations, such as:
- Demographic – Age, gender, income, socio-economic class, job title, home location, credit rating
- Channels – Mobile, tablet, desktop, call center, app, in-store, SMS, branch
- Purchase history – Recency, frequency, monetary
- Lifecycle – New visitor, returning visitor, returning customer, business vs. consumer
- Behavior – Online, in-store
- Device type – Apple, Android, Windows
- Product value – Low cost, high cost
- Seasonal – Weather, seasons, events
- Time and Geolocation
Perhaps not all of the above attributes will be important to your business, but identifying them from the beginning will allow you to streamline how you personalize content to your customers.
- Define the Action to Take
What’s the point of data and insights if there is no action to follow? Not much. Therefore, after you’ve established your personalization parameters and expectations, you can decide what type of actions you would tee up based on your customer’s behavior. Examples include:
- Ad retargeting if a customer makes a short visit to your site
- In-session chat windows when someone seems to be struggling on your site
- Recommendations on other items that are similar to what’s been viewed
- In-session discounts if someone tries to abandon their cart
- Email retargeting if someone truly does abandon their cart or leaves a form only partially filled out
- A personalized welcome with recommended actions the next time that customer visits your site
Supporting and guiding your customers through behavioral remarketing and automated actions are key to providing a personalized experience, as well as reducing those missed opportunities.
- Establish Trust With Your Customers
Trust, security and privacy are hot topics in today’s world of mass amounts of data, especially when stored online. How a business handles this very important topic will separate those who are serious about protecting customer information and those who are looking for a shortcut.
First, have an understanding of:
- The type of personalization achievable within privacy restrictions
- The level of personalization that will be tolerated by your customers
- That third-party data can appear creepy; leverage first party data first
Then, be sure to:
- Document your policies and practices
- Tell customers what data you are collecting and why
- Support customer choice – they should be the ones who decide whether or not to share
- Provide something of value in exchange for customer information, such as cash or free membership, loyalty perks/points, or exclusive deals and offers
Especially for companies and agencies within the healthcare, financial services and government sectors, privacy and trust is not something to be trifled with. Take it seriously.
- Stay In Context
Once you have the basics of personalization down, it’s time to provide more nuance to your interactions by thinking about context. This is where seasonality, geolocation and time of day really come into play. Imagine these examples:
- An online retailer notices that in the past a colleague of mine purchased a pair of rain boots so they offer him a discount on the latest version. But, they failed to take into consideration that he lives in Australia and it’s summertime for him right now. Sandals might have been more appropriate.
- I buy the same cup of coffee every day at the same neighborhood coffee shop. I use their app so it can monitor my location and what time I normally puts in my coffee order. To reward my loyalty, they offer me a discounted breakfast muffin with my next coffee purchase. But, they sent it to me two hours after my normal coffee shop stop. Too late to make that day’s visit and far too early for me to remember for the next day.
Context helps make personalization feel like a true 1:1 interaction rather than the customer simply fitting into your segment and all the assumptions that go along with it. In this case and so many others, relevance is king.
- Plan to Personalize Within a Customer Journey
Unfortunately, site personalization is not something you can pre-order, set into motion and then never look at again. Just as your customers’ lives evolve and preferences change, your personalization efforts should vary at different stages in a customer’s journey or lifecycle.
Take for instance a common scenario for banking institutions. What their customers need or want will change significantly based on recent life events. For example, when a customer checks in online or visits a local branch office that experience should ideally mirror their needs based on a new move, job promotion, recent marital status change or welcoming a child. The bank has an opportunity to offer credit cards with travel miles, new low mortgage rates or information about college savings funds if they are aware of what is important to that customer at that time. And that ever-evolving and personal experience should be consistent across channels.
- Continuously Test
What was right yesterday may not be right today. As I mentioned above, preferences and context change. Add to that a changing industry and evolving business goals, and you have a new set of parameters on any given day. To be sure you’re measuring those parameters correctly, you must test what is working with your customers. Then make necessary changes based on those test results. And then test again. This cycle never ends because your changing environment never ends. With the right A/B or multivariate testing and a team of skilled experts, site and campaign optimization can help you keep up with your customers and maximize conversions and retention.
These steps made the top of our list when thinking about how to venture toward online personalization. Once you are comfortable, take another look at our framework to find out how you can continue to advance your digital marketing efforts. Lastly, what did we miss? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!