A truly personalized online customer experience -- what essentially amounts to a custom website for every customer -- has been the Holy Grail of Marketing for over a decade.

After all, consider the great lengths web marketers go to in order to collect data about their website visitors, not to mention all the time they spend poring over it in effort to predict what their customers look like, what they want, and how to best give it to them. Now think about how little they actually do with this information.

This type of data -- this wealth of knowledge about customer preferences, behaviors, needs, wants, habits, patterns and so forth -- is at the root of personalization. It gives us the type of knowledge we used to spend tons of money on to extract from focus groups.

Only now, instead of group data, we have individual data. We know all of the above about each of our customers, which is exactly why and how we begin our journey toward totally personalized sites -- custom fit to each and every one of our customers.

Why the Focus on Personalization?

mirror_shutterstock_61022764.jpg Consumers have become highly skilled at comparison-shopping, or comparison-anything, really. While searching for the best deal once required serious effort -- driving from store to store, comparing catalogs, calling up several businesses for a price quote -- it’s an easy process now.

Now, with just a few clicks, they can typically (and quickly) find the best service, price or sale available. As a result, consumers are more fickle than ever and cultivating loyalty is a real challenge for e-Marketers. A challenge that can (and should) be address by personalization.

The problem is that personalization is currently the most under-utilized component of the trinity of marketing technology known collectively as Customer Experience Optimization (CXO). (The other two components are multivariate testing and multichannel marketing.)

CXO is the act and goal of tailoring your online visitors’ experiences to their individual needs and behaviors. CXO, in other words, is the means by which marketers will ultimately be able to offer their customers’ experiences so customized it will seem as though they’ve arrived at their own personal sites.

So What’s it Going to Take?

Remember the days when adding someone’s first name to your email marketing seemed the height of personalization? It’s almost quaint in its simplicity. Even rules-based targeting used to home in on certain segments, like time of day or geography, are becoming slightly archaic in practice.

The good news is, technology-wise, the tools do exist today to provide an individual, custom experience. But when it comes to technology -- or anything else with the potential to significantly improve our operations and revenue -- most of us are under-utilizing the tools already at hand. We often don’t realize that the only thing standing between us and exponentially better results are simple changes to our existing program.

But first let’s back up: how do you get to this point where providing a fully optimized experience for each individual can be reality?

1. Adopt a Testing Culture, Not Just a Testing Program

Up until about five or six years ago, only the most cutting edge marketers had dabbled in online testing and optimization strategies. Now it’s more mainstream and safe to assume that companies that sell online also have a dedicated testing program in place: whether internal or through a solution provider.