Companies have no shortage of data related to their current and prospective customers. But many still struggle to use that data for personalization that goes beyond “Dear |*firstname*|.”
So what I’m about to propose may seem ludicrous or impossible, but given all the attention on big data, recent advances in business intelligence tools, and some tweaks to digital experience processes and platforms, is not beyond the realm of possibility:
What if we broadened our definition of personalization to personalize individual customer journeys, and not just content?
To answer that question, let’s first revisit the concept of “customer journey” and challenge some common assumptions.
Defining ‘Customer Journey’
McKinsey & Company first articulated the concept of the customer journey as we think of it today in a 2009 article titled, The Consumer Decision Journey. Bruce Temkin and other Forrester Research analysts past and present should get credit here, too, as Forrester was talking about customer journeys around the same time and has probably published the most research on the topic since.
To grossly oversimplify, the idea is that buying a product or service is a process, and not a singular event. That process neither begins nor ends with the actual purchase — multiple engagements often occur between buyer and brand before and after the cash register rings.
Many software vendors and service companies have since evangelized “mapping” these customer journeys. A customer journey map does exactly what it sounds like it would do: It plots all of the points of engagements along the buyer’s journey.
Now I'm no journey mapping expert, so I’ll leave the particulars to those who are, but I'll just say this — research has shown that customer journeys are like fingerprints and snowflakes: no two are exactly the same.
Infinite Customer Journeys
I’ve been in the tech industry for what feels like an eternity (almost 20 years). I’m not easily impressed any more. Over the last five years or so the pace of innovation appears to have hit ludicrous speed (fellow Spaceballs fans understand), yet the ability for companies to truly differentiate themselves appears to be waning, particularly in a crowded field like journey mapping.
So whenever I see a company exhibit true conceptual mastery and genuine thought leadership, I notice. We'll get to one such company in a moment, but another quick point.
Customer journeys are not linear, nor are they static, and therefore they cannot be adequately defined using a standard journey-mapping tool: the venerable flowchart. While most companies are overjoyed when they’ve defined what they believe to be “the” customer journey, they’ve really only taken the first step.
Customer journeys are infinite: they are not predetermined, fixed or finite like your flowchart would lead you to believe.
Now for the company that gets it: Optimove. This company may not be the only one that gets it, but it has done the best job I’ve seen of articulating the infinite customer journey concept. That’s right, Spaceballs fans: They’ve gone to plaid!
Okay, now hit the pause button. Stop reading this article, leave this browser window open, click on the infinite journey link above and read the entire article. Go ahead, I’ll wait ….
Personalizing Infinite Customer Journeys
Was your mind blown by predictive-based micro-segments? Let's push the concept a little further.
The idea of segmentation isn’t new, but the degree of journey segmentation Optimove describes is. Maybe you’re already using your digital experience platform to create persona- or segment-specific content and using some kind of business logic to grab the snippet of content that matches each unique visitor’s presumed persona.
If you are, congratulations! You’re ahead of a lot of other companies.
But, if you are already creating variable content and if you really did read the Optimove article, then you should now be thinking, “How in the world am I going to create even more variable content?!?!” Good question. “Lots of overtime,” is probably the answer. But that’s not the question you should be asking. This is:
If customer journeys are infinitely variable, then don’t the touchpoints themselves, such as web sites, need to be infinitely variable, too?
I know, right? Let that sink in for a bit.
The answer to the above question is, of course, “Yes, but ….” There isn’t a single digital experience touchpoint, application or platform that I know of that can variabilize not just the content of the “pages” it presents (all of the content, not just a module, div or inline variable), but also the order of the “pages” themselves. I put pages in quotes because it’s a convenient way to think about the rather structured and prescribed way we tend to present content when communicating with customers, regardless of touchpoint.
This line of thinking goes way beyond hyperlinks, folks. Now we’re talking about hyperpresentation.
That’s where I’d like to see digital experience platforms go: individualized content presentation for each customer interaction. And I’m convinced it can be done, by marrying the kind of business intelligence required to take predictive-based micro-segmentation down to the level of the individual, with content selection, assembly and presentation driven entirely by business logic and RESTful services. No sitemaps. No static pages. (Someone at Google just fainted.)
When will then be now? Hopefully the answer is the same as it is in Spaceballs.