by Shawna Kenyon
As marketers look for ways to connect with and move customers along the purchase funnel, the ability to create connected experiences will likely include some element of personalization as part of a digital strategy. And rightly so, as there are many clear indicators suggesting that personalization should now be an imperative for businesses:
— “72% of customers will only engage with personalized messaging.” Smarter HQ
— “Marketers who invest in Advanced Personalization efforts can realize upward of $20 in return for every dollar invested.” The Relevancy Group, LiveClicker
With powerful data points like these, adding personalization to improve your content and user experience seems like an obvious next step. Or is it?
Personalization is NOT a UX band-aid
When we talk to potential clients about personalization, the impetus for these conversations often varies greatly. Here are a few examples from recent meetings:
— “Our search appliance isn’t really working. Nobody can find what they’re looking for — so we think personalization might be able to help.”
— “To put it bluntly, our UX sucks...the site is just a patchwork of different experiences that we’ve tied together. We think adding some personalization should help fix the experience.”
Whether the term “personalization” was the buzzword of the day, or it was something a former coworker suggested, the answer in both of these scenarios was a clear and resounding NO!
Personalization is more than a band-aid to help address the absence of a solid UX foundation, search taxonomy, content strategy, accessibility, etc. While it may be considered the cornerstone to customer relevance, personalization is ultimately a stand-alone marketing tool and tactical strategy that is meant to enhance UX and content strategies, not replace or fix them.
Have a clear understanding of current performance
At Horizontal, we strongly believe in an Experience Forward mantra that puts users at the center of everything we do. Before we can start to think about developing an effective personalization strategy, it’s impossible to do in the absence of understanding how your default UX and content strategies are currently addressing user needs. Information architecture, design systems and interaction models should already be working together at a basic level to support how users navigate, find content and achieve their goals while they move through the funnel. An effective approach to personalization must always start with a solid default existing user experience to build upon and there are some clear dependencies you need to consider in order to implement successfully.
If we don’t understand the current state of user behavior, we won’t have the basis we need to properly enhance, test or modify from a personalization perspective.
What is your state of readiness?
Before exploring personalization as an effective strategy, a realistic assessment of readiness is needed to confirm some basic foundational work is in-place to effectively support it.
At its most basic, the definition of personalization is showing the right content to the right user at the right time and place. As such, the approach will often be dependent on the existing content strategy and available assets. Without a robust, default state that includes a content strategy rooted in understanding user needs, exploring personalization as an effective strategy may be premature.
And when we think about content, we’re not just thinking about words on the page. Since imagery is visually engaging and effective, the visual components of a personalization strategy will need to be in lockstep with the overall messaging strategy. In many cases, we are relying on hero images and other visual assets to help bring a personalization strategy to life.
Ultimately, we want to be as upstream as we can to identify some of the potential content gaps to help determine how we’re going to secure the needed assets. Depending on the level of maturity, it might only be possible to initially explore more basic content variations such as CTA buttons or image assets reflecting geographic locations. An overall readiness in terms of content and assets may dictate a phased approach with a series of launches.
Don’t overlook technology integrations and dependencies
To go beyond a segment–based approach and implement a more granular level of personalization, there will be a dependency on having systems in-place to provide the data needed to tell us who your users are.
A technical feasibility assessment may be needed to assess the integrations with systems like CRM (Customer Relationship Management), CDP (Customer Data Platform) and other systems of record to help us stitch together a record of those users. For an e-commerce experience, there would also be a need for a PIM or other system to understand product availability. Without these integrations in-place, it will be much more difficult to determine how to personalize on a 1:1 level.
In addition to confirming the systems, there may also be a requirement to unify and streamline your data. While many organizations are swimming in loads of customer data, it is often located in separate siloed areas and departments. CDPs are one solution to add to your martech stack to help solve this data unification challenge.
With the understanding that 3rd party data and cookies are going away, now is the time to think about how to solve the business challenge of gathering and unifying your customer data. In order to realize an effective 1:1 personalization strategy, you will need the complete, golden record for your customers to create connected customer experiences across multiple touchpoints and devices.
Crawl | Walk | Run: use cases help identify a path forward
The approach to defining a personalization strategy is grounded in UX and content. We’ll want to consider the known behaviors of users in the context of a UX journey or flow to help determine how personalization can be applied and ultimately enabled by content and technology.
— We start looking at default user behaviors by using data to illustrate their journey and help tell the story of what users are doing on the site today:
— How many users or personas are we targeting?
— Where are they landing on the site?
— Where are they at in the site experience?
— What pages are they consuming?
— Where are the potential friction points in the experience?
— Are there high-value pages they aren’t landing on? Or are they landing there but there is less engagement?
Ultimately, use cases help us uncover the stories that inform why performance isn’t meeting expectations. Once we’ve ideated and assessed level of effort, business value, complexity for the use cases, then developing an appropriate personalization strategy becomes an exercise in defining the rules and mapping the rules to the experience to determine possible strategies to improve the UX to better align with established business goals.
Testing plays an important role
Success often depends on actively monitoring the effectiveness of the strategy and refining it as needed to deliver the desired results. When implementing a personalization strategy, we’re likely going to scale-in updates incrementally rather than full, sweeping changes. So, testing becomes an important element of personalization strategy to help determine potential shifts in messaging and content to help move users through the funnel.
While we can deploy different types of testing, more often than not we’re talking about A/B testing as opposed to multi-variant testing. Since we’re not going to know what content is going to be effective when we start, part of the content strategy may require different variations on existing assets to support opportunities for A/B testing. Typically, we’re not doing full page tests that involve swapping out multiple elements on a page. We might be comparing variations of a similar asset or comparing performance of different assets and testing select pieces of content like a headline, hero image, a specific content block or possibly the color treatment of a CTA button or the supporting text.
Before testing, it will be critical to understand what we’re evaluating and confirm what success looks like to the business. What were we anticipating the result to be? What is the action we want users to take? This reiterates the importance of data dependency and the reliance of our partnership with analytics capabilities to understand the KPIs and help identify opportunities for testing incrementally to refine the strategy along the way.
Like any other worthy customer centric pursuits, personalization needs to be approached strategically, and thoughtfully. Many of our clients came to Horizontal in search of a trusted partner to embark on this endeavor. If you’re interested in finding ways to infuse personalization into your organization’s customer experience strategy, our team of experts are ready to dive in and roll up our sleeves alongside you. We’d love to be in touch.