In the late 1990’s, our data-driven decision making fed on cookies, logs, and a bit later, heat maps. “Stickiness” was the goal of the C-Suite, the semantic web was just being born, and the mobile web…well…wasn’t.
The thought behind the internet then: “Everything is on here, have at it.” #Adventure
Fast-forward to 2016 and we have personalization powered by “big data” touted as the future of the web.
The thought behind the Internet now: “Everything that is contextual and relevant will be brought to you for validation and optimization.” #Tailored
Much of the first “personalization” wave was tackled by the sophistication of web browsers (thanks semantic web), early ad-tech and third-party data. But this next phase isn’t going to be absorbed by the big browsers or solved by the purchase of big 3rd party lists. Individual organizations will have to pony up for talent (data scientists/strategists) and infrastructure (CMS) if they want to survive.
The Promise of Personalization
The end goal of personalization is more sales. This can come immediately via product suggestions, or more indirectly via content and trust building efforts. Both of these approaches leverage customer preferences, behaviors and attributes to focus and refine digital experiences.
Knowing what the user does and doesn’t do is pure gold. Tucked away in the fine print of purchases and signups are popups and disclaimers stating that data collection is part of the transaction – this is the sluice box of personalization. This exchange of personal data for robust, personalized experiences delivers convenience via context, and savings via substance in a world where time is our greatest asset.
Big talk. Low Numbers.
“Only five percent of marketers have a predictive understanding of the customer journey, and only 31 percent say they use customer data to provide better experiences.”
“Just 19 percent of marketers personalize their app strategy, and yet personalization is life or death to brand apps trying to engage new users with high expectations.”
“Less than 10% 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.”
Without customer data, organizations are left juggling historical knowledge and market guesswork to support ever-complex product plans and life cycles. The marketing future laid out in the movie Minority Report has become a reality. We have touchscreens in airports. We have face recognition technology. We have machine learning, behavioral monitoring and predictive analytics that knows what you need before you need it. The puzzle pieces to deliver on the promise of personalization are well within our grasp.
So why are so few companies investing in personalization?
-Data: It’s plentiful, it’s unstructured across systems and most organizations don’t know how to use it to make informed decisions.
-Technology: Most CMS systems were designed to manage content and pages – not deliver personalized experiences. The personalization landscape for technology is changing by the minute ($669m of VC money went to personalization vendors in Q3 of 2015.)
-People: There are few people who understand why users did what they did. There are fewer who can develop insights and experiences centered around what they might do next.
-Change: Where there are profits there are politics and this creates a land grab for personalization efforts inside organizations across tech, social, marketing, strategy, etc.
With personalization as a high priority action item on most organization’s docket, the challenge is matter of creating responsibility and understanding. The one-for-all, all-for-one strategy may have been prudent in 2004, but in 2016, adopters of personalization are leading the pack.
-Big numbers + recommendations: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon
-Interests + behavioral: Google Now, Twitter Moments
-Customer Journey + predictive analytics: Stitchfix, Sage
Moving from Data to Insight
Prepared or not, oceans of data are headed our way. Successful organizations will be the ones who invest in people who can translate this data into engaging experiences. The technology solutions will continue to get more accurate and accessible but in the short term this will make personalization technology purchases full of overlap and confusion. The current landscape will require you to cross-check targeting solutions, segmentation solutions, personalization solutions, content solutions, email solutions, mobile solutions, in-store solutions and iOT solutions for full personalization coverage. Given that very few organizations will require that level of personalization, most will be able to make incremental investments in technology.
Provided you then get a handle on normalizing your data, you will then have the tall task of creating robust user experiences that are contextually relevant and useful. User Experience and Customer Experience professionals will need to play a huge role here, stitching data points to custom features and experiences. Atomic design principles will need to be applied, COPE strategies will need to implemented and predictive analytics paradigms will dramatically influence the UX/CX toolset.
Out of the gate content and product suggestion personalization may fit in to your current UX elements and modules. But more robust data combinations will likely require new workflows, modules and experiences to be supported. Additionally, device-dependent adaptive experiences will increase in complexity as iOT takes off. So look at your data before you design. Merge your intuition with what the numbers say. Then uncover insights and create experiences. Your future depends on it.