Stop Talking About Personalization and Start Doing It!

by Kevin Lindsay

posted on 08-15-2016

At every company, the people I talk with tell me that personalization is a strategic priority for that business. And frankly, this is nothing new — companies have been talking about personalization, at least in digital, for about fifteen years now. Yes, there’s been a whole lot of talking but not much doing from where I sit. Okay, to be fair to those brands that’ve dipped their toes into personalization and experimented with targeting and maybe a recommendation system — kudos to you. These are great ways to embark on a personalization journey — to get not only some early wins, but also your leaders excited about its potential. But, in the age of the experience business — this ultra-competitive, consumer-driven, mobile-first era of micro-moments — we’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s time for a little less conversation and a little more action.

Okay, that sounded a little harsh. The truth is, I’m actually extremely impressed by the steps I’m seeing companies — from financial services to travel & hospitality and even healthcare — take to solidify and execute their personalization strategies. And, when it comes to talking — well, it indeed takes a significant amount of talking; gaining the necessary alignment across increasingly complex organizations and touchpoints takes A LOT of conversation and A LOT of planning. So, which organizations excel with regard to personalization, and which fall short? The biggest, best-funded companies aren’t necessarily always the victors in the personalization game — and, likewise, small companies aren’t being left out simply because of their scopes either. More often than not, it’s the companies that simply dive in and start personalizing that come out on top. The ones that fall by the wayside? The brands that sit back and wait for someone else to jump in; the companies that are standing by, waiting for the borders to be drawn and playbooks to be published. And they’re going to be waiting a long time. You see, the rules are being written right now.

What Today’s Personalization Leaders Are Doing Right Now
When I think about today’s personalization leaders, I think about how they aren’t just waiting on the sidelines — they’re going for it. They score some wins. They suffer some setbacks. They have people in the organization who are cheering them on, and they have others who are shouting, “We don’t have our strategy together yet!” But, they know the alternative — missing out on personalization wins right now is too huge a sacrifice.

These are gutsy marketers. They’re willing to take risks so they can dive in and start personalizing now.

Although every vertical and every individual company is different, there are three characteristics that unify the companies that are pushing through and personalizing at all costs:

  1. They hire disrupters — the experienced thinkers and doers!
  2. They understand what personalization means to their particular businesses.
  3. They break everything into short- and long-term goals — and then focus on both!

Granted, these three traits have slightly different interpretations as you move from industry to industry, marketing department to marketing department. However, I see these qualities bubble to the surface over and over again. And the best part? They aren’t difficult to implement — no matter how optimizationally mature and personalization focused your company is.

1. They Hire Experienced Personalization Practitioners Who Can Lead.
It’s no secret that people move around a lot in the tech industry. And, that means plenty of movers and shakers are — or can be — in the market at any given time. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to tap these disrupters — even if they’re from other industries. Recruiting fresh personalization blood from outside your space can be very beneficial. One friend of mine who ran the site personalization at a leading company in the media space recently moved to a 100-year-old insurance company to lead the personalization charge there. Now, he’s building a team and accelerating his company’s personalization roadmap.

Personalization-focused organizations aren’t afraid to move that powerhouse from banking to healthcare (this is another of my industry friends), because — just as these thinkers and doers forged paths for themselves in their current industries — they’re undoubtedly primed to do the same in any company that brings them aboard. These are the people who figured out personalization best practices without any real parameters — what’s stopping them from pushing the envelope in any industry? The fundamentals are the same. Don’t be afraid to give these disrupters major seats at the table — and then get ready for everything that comes next.

2. They Understand What It Means to Personalize as Well as Why They’re Doing It.
Personalization means something different to every company. Consider a brand like GoPro, for instance. They’re relatively new, they have very cool products, and online sales are huge for them. Think about what personalization means for them — they make a product that is very personal in many ways. Now, compare that to another type of business that’s also deemed “personal” — a healthcare company, for example. What’s more personal than one’s health? What do patients expect versus outdoor adventurers who are strapping on GoPros? What spot-on relevant experiences are needed to make customers feel connected and engaged at any point in their relationships with you.

Think about your business and ask those fundamental questions. What does personalization mean to you and your company? How can you break it all down into manageable, digestible parts so it’s something the company can tackle? What could it look like tomorrow in terms of goals, key performance indicators (KPIs), and tactics? But, more important than anything else, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and try hard to understand what they want from the experience and how those goals can be met through personalization.

3. They Establish Short- and Long-Term Goals — and Focus on Both!
It’s important to think about what’s happening now as well as what’s happening tomorrow. All too often, companies get caught up in the personalization that they’ll tackle in the future — again, once those mythical personalization playbooks have been printed. “In two years, we’ll do XYZ once this and that are in place.” A football game is won one yard at a time, and the crowd cheers every one of those wins, right? With personalization, it’s really important to have those short-term wins. They’ll help you not only win over the skeptics, but also secure budget for your more aggressive, more long-term aspirations.

Personalization is a short-term/long-term balancing act. To excel, you have to look at both. Determine short-term goals that can support longer-term initiatives — and don’t forget to figure out a few that can deliver quick wins that you can socialize and evangelize. I literally just looked at an email that a member of my team forwarded to me highlighting an amazing revenue lift due to a slight tweak they made to their product recommendations over the last three months. This is worth celebrating! This is so important for gaining institutional buy-in and for fueling the momentum of your ongoing personalization campaigns.

That said, a long-term personalization roadmap is still critical — you can’t just rely on quick, short-term wins. As you start drumming up more and more interest surrounding your personalization initiatives — those quick wins — you’ll need to show that you’re building a platform for scalability and long-term success. Your wins will have your colleagues and leaders looking to you to address those more complex personalization challenges that arise as your company truly gets serious about being an experience business. And yes, this is going to take a lot of talking to get right.

On a final note, as you’re building out your long-term plans, don’t forget to account for flexibility. Although a firm plan is important to have, the lifetime of today’s technology is short, so digital marketers must also be nimble. Maybe you create a 5-year plan as part of a 10-year vision; or maybe, it’s a 3-year plan as part of a 5-year vision — it all depends on your industry, goals, and technology. But — no matter what — every piece must be purposeful, well planned, and fit together seamlessly. That’s the key to effectively blending short- and long-term personalization tactics.

Remember, Personalization Isn’t Easy.
But then, nothing worthwhile ever is, right? Buzzkill? I hope not. Certainly some tactics and tools are pretty easy to adopt and use, particularly to attain those quick wins. I’m not advocating rocket science here — nor do I suggest throwing one-size-fits-all tech at your website and hoping for the best. All personalization requires careful consideration of what you’re trying to achieve, the available data you should be utilizing, and above all, the quality of the experience you’ll be creating. It’s part technology, part common sense, and part industry expertise and best practices.

There’s no excuse to put off personalizing. Virtually any marketer can turn basic insights into actions that will be more relevant than the alternative for a particular visitor. It’s standard recommendations, contextualization; it’s targeting people based on geofences or their being within a beacon’s range. Any of these actions could be enough to yield some serious results. It’s not about biting off more than you can chew, but rather, taking smart, strategic steps toward delivering meaningful relevance. Consumers appreciate every bit of effort — personalization efforts don’t need to be noticed by customers to be appreciated. Simple steps can pay off in big ways. Start there and build out more aggressive personalization efforts based on your wins and key learnings.

There’s no excuse not to personalize. Stop talking about it, and start doing it — now!

Topics: Personalization