By Brian Stanga, January 23, 2017
Remember those simple days when it was enough to provide a broad, “one size fits all” experience to all your website and app visitors? Those static experiences are being supplanted as customers are demanding increasing levels of personalization for unique experiences tailored to their needs.
A good example is mint.com, the personal finance website. Mint.com asks customers for their personal finance goals and, based on customer spending habits (mint.com connects to the customer’s credit cards and banking systems), Mint can make customized financial recommendations based on near real-time information. This ability to provide useful dynamic content increases Mint’s relevancy to its customers, giving it a leg up on competition.
1) Eighty-eight percent of consumers say they’re more likely to shop with retailers that deliver personalized and connected cross-channel experiences, according to a Swirl Networks study.
Customers aren’t only buying more from smart marketers who are providing effective website personalization, they are buying less from marketers who aren’t customized enough:
2) According to Janrain & Harris Interactive, 74 percent of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content (e.g. offers, ads, promotions) appears that has nothing to do with their interests.
But despite these impressive numbers, marketers are struggling to adapt:
3) Gartner retail research findings indicate less than 10 percent of Tier 1 retailers believe they are highly effective at personalization and nearly one-third report having limited or no capability to support personalization efforts.
Product RecommendationsTo gain a better understanding of effective uses for website personalization, let’s look at a website that you probably use, and that I use on a weekly basis – Amazon.com. When I go to my Amazon homepage on their website or app, I’m treated to customized experience that I contributed to creating:
- I see “Hello Brian” and with 1 click to tap, I can manage my Amazon account
- I see “my orders” so that I can research where my goodies are and, more importantly, when I’ll have them
- I see product recommendations that just make sense. Amazon uses several data points to help inform its product recommendation engine. This includes my browsing history, past purchases, wish list and the products that other customers like me typically purchase. To capitalize on the significant ROI that smart product recommendations can provide, marketers are integrating their e-commerce site with product recommendation engines to offer the right products to the right customers.
Behavioral MarketingESPN.com is another example of a company that does website personalization well, and it accomplishes this through behavioral content marketing. (Read: “7 Tips for Getting Started with Behavioral Marketing.)
When I go to ESPN.com, I notice that the left side of the homepage (or left-rail) is suggesting local Atlanta-based teams that I may like to follow: the Braves, Hawks and Falcons. ESPN suggests these teams based on my location (Atlanta), which is being provided by my IP address to a content personalization engine that it’s using. In other words, I didn’t have to tell ESPN anything. This is an example of “implicit behavioral personalization.”
When I tell ESPN that I want to follow the Dallas Cowboys instead of the Atlanta Falcons, this is an example of “explicit behavioral personalization.” This combination of implicit and explicit information gives ESPN incredible capabilities to provide me with relevant and compelling content. As I become increasingly engaged and consume more content on the site, ESPN learns even more about my sports interests than just the teams that I like. ESPN also learns what topics I like and in response can serve me content that’s hyper-targeted to my interests.
ESPN extends its personalization to its flagship app as well. Once I register on ESPN.com and select the sports and teams I like, the ESPN app uses that information to surface relevant content, including scores and the ability to watch my teams using its app.
Mobile PersonalizationOn mobile devices, the marketer’s canvas is constrained by a screen size of roughly five inches, yet customers expect to readily discover the information they need. Also, customers view their mobile devices as their personal devices; therefore, the app experience needs to feel personally relevant to be successful. (Read: “The Marketer’s Guide to Mobile Engagement.”)
In-app messaging is a great way for a brand to extend this personal resonance to an app experience. In-app messages are notifications displayed to users while they are actively using the app. This type of messaging is hyper-contextual, rooted in analytics and usually triggered by user interactions. For example, through in-app messages, companies can prompt users to accept timely push notifications. You’ve probably noticed this prompt when you first start using an app. In-app messages can also help a user who’s stuck by providing instructions or help a moderately engaged user learn about other app functions.
Why are marketers using in-app messages? Because they work. Research shows that in-app messages drive happier, more loyal app users. A recent study by Localytics showed that in-app messages drive, on average, a 300 percent higher retention rate and 27 percent more app launches over apps that don’t use them.
Sharecare uses in-app messages within its AskMD app to help me discover new app features.
Getting Started with Website Personalization As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, research strongly supports the use of personalization to enhance your website and app experience, yet marketers are struggling to keep up. I think one barrier marketers face is the tendency to become overwhelmed by choices and ideas. There’s innumerable experiential possibilities, but I recommend starting with the end in mind.
Think hard about the experience you want to provide to your customers. Don’t focus on data you have or need just yet, instead develop a vision of where you want to go. For inspiration, sometimes it helps to study the competition, or even brands who thrive with personalization who may fall outside your industry, for ideas on best practices in personalized marketing. Of course, key stakeholders in your own company should also be consulted with as they may have good ideas on personalization, but may never have had a forum or the means to make them happen. It’s also important to develop an idea of how you’re going to measure the results. Is it depth of engagement? Customer retention? Sales? Think about what makes sense for your brand.
Once you have this vision of your brand’s personalized experience, break it down into pieces. None of the great personalized brands I mentioned above accomplished what they did overnight. It started with a vision that they divided into manageable feature and functionality enhancements. Agile is the most popular form of product development and it builds a framework to focus on these small steps towards a larger vision. That being said, the most important component of innovation is the up-front “thought work,” which unlike agile, is highly creative and unstructured.
When I worked at WebMD, when we were conceiving an app concept, we would literally cover huge meeting tables with magazines that had to do with the app topic to help stimulate ideas. We also had plenty of smartphones and tablets on the table so that on a whim, we could kick the tires of great apps for inspiration. This type of environment that revolved around creative teamwork helped us produce award-winning apps that were personal, helpful and brand-centric.
Customer Data and SegmentationOnce you’ve done the fun creative planning, it’s time to take a look at the brass tacks. Break down the vision into each individual feature and functionality enhancement and determine the data you need and the data you wish to provide. Many times you won’t have all the necessary data, but you can partner with other areas within your company such as IT or finance who can help you fill the gaps. Or maybe it’s up to you to build this data set. If so, online forms or surveys could help you accomplish this. This is the stage when web developers and data analysts need to be involved. Pulling them in earlier on will eliminate gotchas down the road – trust me on that! (Get more tips: “Listening, Segmentation, Automation: 10 Tips for a Stronger Digital Marketing Program.”)
Once you have the necessary customer data to provide the experience you wish to provide, it’s time to think about customer segmentation. With customer segmentation, you take all the necessary customer data and form groups that have variables in common that you select. This gives you the ability to deliver personalization that’s highly effective. You can create segments around things like demographics, common behavior, device types and custom events.
Take, for instance, the before-mentioned tactic of in app messaging. You could partner with a company that provides in-app messaging and then segment based on your customer’s app usage, such as the level of engagement. Here are some example segments:
- Light users could receive an in-app message to help instruct them on how to use the app and get more value from it
- Moderate users could receive an in-app message introducing them to complimentary features
- Heavy users could receive an in-app message asking for an app store rating or a referral to a friend
Personalization is not a thing you do once, it’s a mindset of increasing customer relevancy in every product that you produce and every digital marketing tactic that you do deploy. It’s amazing to me how much it’s evolved, and I’m looking forward to seeing where we’ll take it next.