"Hello My Name Is" sticker with drawing on it
PHOTO: Jody McIntyre

Talking to marketers about technology innovation is one of my favorite things to do. And over the last three weeks, at retail conferences in NY and San Francisco, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to do that.

On the topic of technology innovation, it’s no surprise that everyone has an eye on artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain — it’s hard not to given its visibility in publications and at conferences. But for almost everyone, those technologies are far off on the horizon. Retailers are really focused on in-store technology that can be used to understand customer behavior and improve the customer experience, and personalization.

Strategy Before Solutions

We’ve been talking about personalization for a long time. But beyond implementing behavior-based triggered emails and inserting a name into our promotional materials we are in many ways still at the early stages of adoption. At one of the retail conferences, I sat through an Adobe presentation on personalization that showed how all the various products in its portfolio help, and play a role in, a personalization strategy. It was a great presentation, but the complexity of it made me want to hide under the table. 

I realized afterwards that it wasn’t the vendor presentation that was the problem. I was the problem. I’d fallen into the trap of looking for a simple technology solution without really thinking about what I was trying to achieve. It’s become very clear that I am not ready to absorb technology options and shop for products. I need a more well-defined strategy and to spend some more time thinking about what I want to accomplish and what I need to do to get that done. 

One generally accepted definition of personalization is to get the right information to the right person at the right time. But what does that actually mean in the context of your business? Is that how you define personalization in your environment?

Related Article: Personalization Isn't the Goal, Conversion Is

Defining Your Personalization Goals

Personalization can look very different depending on your environment. For some companies, audience segment personalization is sufficient. For others, personalization means driving down and responding to the individual behavior of each customer.

In my case, as a B2B company, I don’t need to personalize down to the individual initially. I have a number of very different but well-defined audience segments. My first personalization requirement is to deliver relevant insights about the use of marketing technology to each audience. Long term however, my goal is to deliver relevant and meaningful insights and recommendations at the individual user level. I’m lucky my goals are fairly straightforward. For those of you with a lot of different segments, operating in a multi-channel environment, or looking to deliver personalization online and offline, establishing a list of goals is going to be more complex. 

My recommendation is to start by listing your goals, prioritizing them and then approaching personalization in a systematic way. Having a complete set of goals will ensure that you don’t box yourself into a corner as you work through your priority list. Part of defining your goals should be to define what you are hoping to achieve with each goal. This will help you with prioritization.

Are You Ready for Personalization?

With goals and priorities in hand, it’s important to look at any internal development requirements necessary to fulfill the promise, and deliver the value, of personalization.

In our case, we had development work to do to make sure that we captured the data we needed to deliver insights and recommendations in a format that makes it easy to access and process. Since this was a stated company goal from the very beginning, we’re now in good shape. Our next challenge is to generate a large enough data set to derive meaningful insights. Until we have this it doesn’t make sense to invest in external technology to deliver personalized insights.

For some organizations getting ready for personalization may also require people, process and even business model evolution.

Related Article: The Rocky Path to Personalization

Defining the Person in Personalization

Once you are ready to deliver personalized value, you need to know whom you are delivering it to. How much data do you need about each user or audience segment?  Is demographic data enough or do you need behavioral data as well? If behavioral data is important: what exactly do you need? Do you need data from a single source (e.g. activity on a website) or from a number of channels — both online or offline?  

We’re back to the discussion of developing a 360-degree view of the customer. In order to successfully deliver personalized value it’s imperative that you have enough information about each customer or customer segment to define what will be valuable to each.

Delivering a Personalized Experience 

A lot of tools can be used to deliver a personalized experience, but the key is to determine if it makes sense to fully leverage a platform with a wide variety of functionality or whether it makes sense for you to start by experimenting with single channel (e.g. email) before adding additional technology or jumping to a full scale platform.

Whatever your environment, this is actually a place where AI can be extremely helpful by automating targeting and delivery across a vast array of segments or individuals.

In the B2B world the obvious place to start is with email but there are many other ways to deliver a compelling personalized customer experience. One of the best examples I heard recently was of a chocolate shop that as part of its’ customer loyalty program asks that you opt-in to their use of facial recognition technology in their stores. Imagine: you walk into the chocolate shop, the technology uses facial recognition to alert the sales staff to your presence and lets them know that you are a fan of dark chocolate, and then instead of being approached with a “how can I help you?” you are greeted by name and offered a sample of the best new dark chocolate.  Personally, I would love that!

Related Article: The Danger of Believing in a 360-Degree Customer View

Is Personalization Worth It?

Personalization gives us many opportunities to create an enhanced customer experience and drive customer loyalty.  And, in fact, personalization is becoming an expectation. How annoying is it to receive product recommendations or generic emails that bear no resemblance to your interests?  Despite the fact that we are all generally uncomfortable with the amount of data that is collected about us, we still very much appreciate personal attention.

Personalization is also good for the top line as well. During that same Adobe presentation, the Adobe representative reported that personalization can drive a click-through rate lift of 10 to 30 percent, a site conversion lift of 5 to 15 percent, a site average order value lift of 5 to 10 percent, and a store sales lift 1 to 5 percent.

I’m still not ready to look at the full Adobe suite of personalization options but my guess is it won’t be long before I am. I will welcome and enjoy diving deep into what the latest in technology can deliver.