By now, the value of personalization should be clear. Customers have so many choices online — to shop, to read articles, to watch videos and more. A brand or publisher that wants to grab their attention must quickly serve the most relevant, useful information. The tough part is figuring out exactly what that relevant, useful information is.

We’ve covered a few ways to discover what customers really want: build better customer profiles, and consider the experience's context (e.g., time of day, type of device, etc.).

Down with Static Profiles

Building better customer profiles is essential. And this building process never ends. Customer profiles must continuously grow and evolve over time, learning from each interaction the customer has with you. To get the most complete view of the customer, pull in data from different marketing tools and digital sources. A solid profile that notes each interaction can help you convert anonymous site visitors (which account for more than 95 percent of traffic to your site) to known users as soon as they do something identifiable, like sign up for your company newsletter. 

Companies make a big mistake when implementing personalization solutions if they fail to evolve customer profiles and fail to recognize that customers are dynamic. Data about the last interaction a customer had with your website is not useful in a vacuum, combine it with other information to create a holistic look at the customer's preferences and buying habits. Once we’re able to get a macro view of a customer, we can determine what information they’d likely be interested in viewing.

Where, When, Why

Context is equally as important. Consider the context of a shopping or browsing experience (think: the where, when and why): Is the consumer on a mobile device, desktop or tablet? What time of day is it? How can I use that information to infer what they may want or need at this moment vs. any other time? 

Proper contextualization can help us recognize when a certain set of unique purchases don’t necessarily provide an accurate picture of a customer’s preferences. For example, if a customer shows an increase in toy purchases in December, we can infer that perhaps they are doing holiday shopping for some family members and don’t always want to be retargeted with toys in the future.

The Customer Knows Best

A third personalization tactic has recently entered the spotlight: consumer choice. Companies have always used different tactics, such as surveys or preference settings, to gather information about customer’s preferences directly from the customers. Now companies like Facebook are taking it a step father — testing out ways to let consumers have more choice in what types of content they’d like to see in their news feed (beyond the “Hide Post” options already offered). Facebook will still serve ads, but consumers will have a bit more control over their experience on the platform. Instead of using data behind the scenes to guess (which Facebook will still do to some extent), it allows customers to play an active part in the personalization experience.

Bringing more customer choice into the personalization equation is a positive step for a variety of reasons. Think about successful companies that rely on choice, like Flipboard, which lets readers create custom magazines based on topics and publications they like. This element of choice strengthens the two-way channel of communication between brand and consumer, which provides value for both parties: companies get more data to build intelligent profiles, and consumers improve their user experience. 

Giving customers a more active role in their own content personalization can also assuage privacy concerns around personalization. If we can show people exactly what types of data we’re using to determine what information they’d likely want to see, they won’t feel that their privacy is being compromised behind their backs. There is a misconception among consumers that their personally identifiable information is used for personalization — but that’s not necessarily true. That level of information isn't necessary at all. In reality, your preference for XS sweaters is used to determine what items you see featured on the homepage of, not your home address or telephone number.

Giving customers more choice in what they experience and see on a site is a win-win situation for companies and consumers alike. Two-way communication will help companies fill the gaps in imperfect personalization algorithms, and make consumers feel more comfortable receiving personalized content. Companies who can implement choice, along with building better customer profiles and considering context, will be able to successfully personalize a user’s experience online.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by  jasonlam