A women personalizing bags, aprons, towels and other items in Venice by Alex Hesse

Personalizing your content for prospects and customers takes a carefully crafted strategy and the thoughtful use of multiple data sources.

It's more sophisticated and nuanced than popping third-party software out-of-the-box and pushing a start button.

That was the takeaway from Colin Eagan, a user experience expert at Minneapolis, Minn.-based ICF Olson, a customer experience agency purpose-built to help clients through digital transformation. He made the comments in a recent webinar with CMSWire, "Website Personalization 101."

ICF Olson is focused on the intersection of creativity, technology and strategy in areas such as experience management, loyalty and CRM, digital platforms and strategic communications. With more than 800 employees across 14 offices throughout the United States, Canada and India, it ranks as one of the top 50 agency companies in the world by revenue.

ICF Olson is a division of Fairfax, Va.-based ICF.

From Content Management to Experience Management

Personalization — once a novelty — has grown into an expectation. Customers and clients expect everything from personalized email messages to targeted ads and product suggestions. Now marketers have new options for personalization, including experience management systems that takes the traditional content management system (CMS) to a deeper level.

Enterprises can still publish and maintain content but at the same time selectively target that content.

Balance Data Use With Trust

The other change: new data sources and easily accessible APIs through third-party sources that generate information such as IP addresses, geographical segmentation and industry. 

“There are a lot of data sources to tap into,” Eagan said. “The challenge with personalization is maintaining user trust is critical. If you’re not transparent, you can get into trouble and alienate users.”

Weigh the Costs

An experience management system can be expensive compared to a third-party plug-in, Eagan said. It may also take longer to set up and you may need a larger team to support robust functionality,” he continued.

But in an experience management system offers far greater control and "seamless integration across all content."

With third-party plug-ins, the "magic is happening offsite."  

“You’re outsourcing CMS control for targeted content. You need to be prepared to do it properly,” he said.

Set Clear Goals

icf olson

Diving into website personalization because “everyone was talking about it a tech show” or because your CEO said “we should do it” are probably not the right reasons, Eagan said.

Know your organization’s objectives and tie personalization projects to business KPIs. Set content core value principles, Eagan said, and perform a content inventory to get your lay of the land.

“Targeting is not a goal, it’s just another tool in the content user experience toolbox,” Eagan said. “You need to begin with intent core principles and goals and how targeting content can further this.”

Title image "Your Name" (CC BY 2.0) by Alex Hesse