If you’re a marketer, we’re guessing you’ve been hearing a lot
about personalization in the past few years.
After all, 98% of marketing professionals
believe it advances customer relationships, and 48% are increasing their personalization budgets this year.
But…hit the pause button. What exactly is personalization? How does it work? Why are we all worked up about it? And if it is so valuable, how can our brands tap into that value?
For an in-depth discussion of all things personalization, check out our ultimate guide to personalized marketing. Or to drill down into what web personalization is and where it fits into today’s marketing landscape, read on.
What the heck is web personalization?
Web personalization is about knowing your customers and automatically delivering the messages, content, offers, and service each individual wants and needs on your website.
So, if long-time customer Jaques who is already on your mailing list comes to your website, maybe he sees a homepage full of products similar to what he’s purchased in the past. Maybe he gets a pop-up for an add-on product for something he purchased yesterday. Maybe he gets a coupon for a purchase you know he’s been mulling over because he’s visited that product page daily for the last four days.
And if brand-new customer Jeanne stops by? She’ll see something different. Maybe a pop-up inviting her to join the mailing list. Maybe a selection of your most popular content.
The ultimate goal here is to drive real business results by meeting customers where they are—serving them the right content in the right place at the right time.
67% of customers want brands to personalize
According to one recent survey, 67% of customers want brands to automatically adjust content to fit their current context. 44% say a personalized shopping experience will bring them back again. And 49% have purchased something they didn’t plan on purchasing because of a personalized recommendation.
Whatever your feelings about Jeff Bezos, he hit the nail on the head in 1998 when he said, “if we have 4.5 million customers, we shouldn’t have one store. We should have 4.5 million stores.”
A big part of Amazon’s success is just that: Treating customers as individuals—at scale.
You need a web personalization strategy
Okay, so we’re all on board with web personalization…now what? Where do we start? How do we go from unpersonalized piles of content to Amazon-level success stories? How do we go from one store to 4.5 million individually personalized stores?
The answer? It all starts with strategy.
Before you can personalize your website, you need to ask big-picture questions about your business goals, customer needs, and technology capabilities. For example:
What do you want customers to do? What are your overall business goals?
Who are your customers? What do you know about them? How are you collecting data about them? Where does it come from? How accurate is it? Is it the right data? What can it tell you about each customer’s journey, interests, and likelihood of converting?
What tools do you have in place for personalization? Do they move you toward your goals? Are they able to personalize on a 1:1 level or do they fall short? What technology do you need to put in place to reach your goals?
Once you understand where you’re at, where you’re going, and what you need to get there, you can start to make a more granular plan to move you toward revenue, engagement, and other business goals.
Web personalization best practices
Once you know what your goals are and who your users are, the next step is making an implementation plan. Here are some of the best practices we encourage our clients to consider as they start down the road to personalization implementation:
Identify the data that matters—and don’t worry about the rest
Does a customer’s geography change anything about the messaging and offers you send them? What about their marital status? Gender? Age?
In some cases, the answers are yes. In others, those factors really don’t matter to your business.
For example: If you’re selling worldwide, you might want to surface information on your website on shipping and availability on a country-by-country level. Tracking geography can help you deliver the right information to the right people.
On the other hand, let’s say your business sells online products. There is no shipping. There’s no availability constraint. Geography might matter less to you.
One of the pitfalls that’s easy to fall into with personalization is getting overwhelmed with too much data. The key is to prioritize which data actually moves the needle for your business and its customers.
Data without insights will get you nowhere
Speaking of data, in and of itself, it won’t get you to personalization—especially at scale. Because just knowing someone’s gender or that they’ve signed up for your yoga tips newsletter doesn’t tell you how, where, and when to market to them.
For that, you need insights. You need data science that connects the dots to tell you things like:
:: People who sign up for the yoga tips newsletter are 2x more likely to purchase your do-it-at-home yoga video series.
:: People who buy corkboard yoga mats are 60% more likely to purchase eco-friendly yoga pants.
The difference here is that insights are something you can take action on, while data itself is static. The data can tell you someone bought a corkboard yoga mat. But isn’t it better to know that that purchase also makes it likely they’ll pull the trigger on those yoga pants if you serve them an ad?
Focus on customer experience
When we hear about how 35% of Amazon’s massive revenue comes from their personalization engine, it’s easy to get stars in our eyes about the growth of our business goals. And we should. Business goals are foundational to personalization success.
But ultimately, personalization is about the customer. The reason for growth is that you’re targeting the right people with the right messages at the right time. Which means balancing all the things you now know about your customers with a customer-first attitude.
Because personalization won’t work if you’re still bombarding people. It won’t work if you creep them out. It won’t work if your customer experience is broken.
In fact, 74% of customers say they’ll stop doing business with a company with poor customer experience.
Which means personalization still needs a customer-first mindset if it’s going to drive the kinds of results we see with leaders like Amazon and Spotify.
Automate personalization to scale
Manual personalization only works for small audiences. The larger your audience gets, the more you need smart machines that can take over personalization tasks.
Just look at companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify. They’ve got personalized homepages, recommendation engines, and playlists serving millions of individual users.
They’re definitely not doing that work by hand.
They’re relying on automation, and if you want to personalize 1:1 the way they do, you’ll need to rely on it too.
If it’s not cross-channel, it’s not personalization
We’re talking about website personalization, but don’t forget that personalization doesn’t live in a vacuum. Your website could be hitting the nail on the head, but if your email marketing, your customer service team, your social media, and your sales process aren’t aligned, the personalization is going to break down—fast.
If your website is great but your customer service has to re-ask the same questions five times, that won’t feel like personalization on the customer side of things.
For personalization to be effective, it can’t be siloed.
Putting plans into action (implementation)
Once you have a plan for personalization, it’s implementation time.
Every company’s roadmap to implementation looks a little different—after all, your business goals and customer needs are different. But there are four steps pretty much everyone has to deal with on the road to 1:1 personalization at scale.
1. Prioritizing the data you’ll use and making sure it’s accessible
Before you get your technology up and running, you need to know what data you have, what data you need, where your data lives, how you’ll access it, and who owns it. This means talking to leaders across the company to map your current data situation. It also means identifying which data actually matters to your business and making that data a priority.
2. Getting teams on the same page and opening lines of communication
Effective web personalization relies on effective personalization across all
your channels—not just the website. Which means you need buy-in and alignment across the organization. People need to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what it means for their jobs.
3. Choosing web personalization tools that support your use cases
Once you know what you want to do with personalization, you’ll need the technology that supports those use cases. Ask vendors hard questions. Get demos and make sure they walk you through your specific use cases. Get referrals and ask how they’re using the tools.
The more you can hone in on how a personalization tool (like Lytics) supports your specific business needs, the more likely you are to choose something that will effectively—and quickly—move you toward your business goals.
4. Learning how to use those tools.
Even the simplest tools have a learning curve. Plan for it. Ask your vendors to support you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Train your teams. Train your backup teams. Have a contingency plan in place for employee turnover and new training.
Keeping web personalization running smoothly means keeping processes and training running smoothly behind the scenes.
From there, marketers move onto prepping, launching, tracking, and tweaking campaigns. This stage of the process is where things can look a bit different from brand to brand, but it’s all built on the foundation of knowing what customers want, know what the business needs, and building campaigns that move toward both those goals.
Examples of web personalization
Web personalization grew The Economist’s digital subscriptions by 300%
Personalization was a big win for our client, The Economist. After centralizing their data, they used predictive scores to identify web visitors who were not already subscribers and who were likely to subscribe based on those scores. They used their website to target that group of visitors with subscription ads.
In the end, the brand grew digital subscriptions by 300% and decreased acquisition costs by 80%.
Purina more than tripled conversions with personalization
When Purina’s Petfinder.com got serious about personalization, they started with pop-ups asking web visitors if they wanted to save their searches and sign up for notifications when a pet they were searching for became available.
The value of the modals became quickly clear. Customers loved the option of getting notifications. The audience Purina collected was highly qualified. And modals outperformed Purina’s previous ad strategies by 300 – 1000%.