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Does Your Organization Need a Director of Personalization?

7 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar
Some companies are creating new CX roles with personalization in the title, should your organization have one?

Personalized customer experiences are so important to some companies they’ve created roles with personalization in the title. Some notable examples of these new roles, from Comcast, include "Director, Digital Personalization" and "Senior Manager, Personalization." The cable giant isn't alone; a general search for “personalization” under jobs at LinkedIn yields a number of results at a variety of companies. 

Having a Director Only Helps

There’s no secret about personalized customer experiences: companies want to do it but often see technological challenges and issues in strategy. Is this the next step for companies wanting to create exceptional personalized customer experiences hiring a personalization leader? “If you embrace personalization and believe it’s a key part of your business strategy, then yes, having a director of personalization — or other similar role — is important,” said Andy Zimmerman, CMO at Evergage, which sells personalization technology. "We also believe that, eventually, all businesses will need a role like this, as personalization continues across industries to become a standard program.”

A personalization director can act as a quarterback, Zimmerman said. That person, he added, directs and “quarterbacks” activities across the organization to conceive and execute campaigns that align with corporate goals. This involves getting input from key executive stakeholders such as the head of marketing, head of customer support, head of loyalty, head of brands and even the CEO. From there, the director of personalization can translate their “overarching goals and priorities into personalization campaigns.”

Related Article: True Marketing Personalization Takes Talent, Technology and Empathy

Personalization is More Than One Role

Not all think it’s necessary to have such a personalization role. Companies with such roles seem like they are trying to “tackle personalization by hiring their way through it," said Jordan Hirsch, director of innovation at digital experience agency Phase2. “You can't hire your way through personalization," Hirsch said, “just like you can't buy a tool and say, ‘OK, now we've checked the personalization box. We bought a personalization engine, therefore we are personalizing.”

Don’t get Hirsch wrong. He said companies with personalization in job titles are investing in creating personalized experiences, for sure. However, it goes way beyond any one role trying to create a culture of personalization. “It looks like companies are trying to wrap a couple departments worth of responsibilities into one role,” Hirsch said. “It feels like a job that's being set up potentially for failure. They're investing a single role with a ton of responsibility under a major time pressure. You've got to not only produce massive ROI for marketing, invent personalization within an organization, manage personalization within an organization and protect the brand.”

It’s a massive task for organizations who decided to take on the challenge. They need deep pockets, dedicated resources and the right amount of authority to get things done across many different facets of the organization, Hirsch said. It’s someone who is “going to be having to go around sort of hat in hand, asking for resources from other departments, trying to get everybody on board with something but not necessarily imbued with any of the authority to make that happen.”

Related Article: 3 Challenges of Personalization at Scale

Large Organizations Leading the Way?

The whole “money and resources” thing for personalization is probably why we mostly see large companies with roles that have personalization in the title. One search of LinkedIn confirms this by yielding results that include: CVS Health, Spotify, TripAdvisor and Staples.

“We’ve seen a single leader of personalization emerge in large, multi-brand enterprises,” said Jennifer Polk, vice president analyst for Gartner who specializes in advising marketing leaders on strategies, best practices and technologies to deliver personalized interactions. Polk is also one of the authors of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Personalization Engines. “Sometimes this is a director of personalization, but it can also be a director of CRM. Obviously, there a host of other roles leading personalization efforts within a single ecommerce, marketing or merchandising team or function. The roles that should be involved in personalization really varies by use case.” 

Zimmerman said his company also tends to see this type of position most often in larger companies, and in those that are committed to and invested in personalization. 

Teams and Channel Focus

Large or small, organizations tend to focus their personalization efforts via teams and channels, Polk said. If a brand is focused on marketing personalization, it might rely on team members across digital or integrated marketing and data and analytics teams or data science teams, she said. On the other hand, if a brand is really looking to personalize its digital commerce site, that effort is largely led by the digital commerce team, in partnership marketing, merchandising, data and analytics, she added.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: The Challenges of Delivering Personalized Customer Experiences

Where Data Governance Fits 

At the point where brands have a director of personalization, they’re often solving for multi-brand challenges related to data governance, according to Polk. “They’re trying to put some parameters around how data is collected, integrated and used to get the most out of those data assets, while also managing data privacy,” Polk said. “Sometimes we hear from clients that want to have a centralized personalization role or team, but they struggle to define the role of this individual or group.” The problem that can arise? Organizations want to manage disparate and disconnected personalization efforts across the enterprise, which can lead to competing priorities, conflicting and confusing customer communication and duplicative tools and resources, Polk said.

Connected to Customer Experience

A director of personalization role is generally aligned to a specific program or larger initiative or team who owns the customer journey and/or customer experience, according to Avi Pollock, president of Grapevine6, a social sales engagement platform. “I'm not sure it’s necessary in all companies particularly those where customer-centricity is already embedded in the DNA of the organization,” Pollock said. “The role does support a larger program, though, by being a master at a few key things.”

The first, he said, is data. Understanding how to use multiple sources of data to achieve the client outcome. It is also about working with multiple channels. A client journey is generally more holistic than just using a web channel or social channel. “It needs to view how the customer interacts and migrates through multiple channels seamlessly and understand how client needs are impacted differently in different client touchpoints,” Pollock said.

The role also needs to have a deep understanding of client segmentation to effectively personalize the experience and at what level to do it, Pollock added. “The role should be able to help marketing formulate campaigns that can deliver that unique client experience for different individuals and segments,” he said.

Related Article: When Marketing Personalization Becomes Too Intrusive 

Important Questions for Personalization Director

Where would the director actually start? According to Zimmerman, the director of personalization would ask questions like: Who knows these products? How do we adjust our algorithms? How do we test new ones? How do we run A/B testing? “For answers, that person would need to pull in other roles,” Zimmerman said. “For example, a designer, a data analyst, a developer and others, depending on the channel: email marketers for email personalization, etc. Coordinating across these teams, the director of personalization would direct the activities to execute against the company strategies.”

New Role, Big Responsibilities

No matter what the role is called or who is in charge, personalization leaders will have “a lot to shoulder,” according to Hirsch. They have to be a “neutral facilitator” who can work across the organization. They simply can’t do it all within the marketing team, according to Hirsch, because “it just won't scale, and it won't be possible to succeed doing that.”

They also have to ensure there is the proper content and design assets and the right technology and skill sets to read and understand data. Personalization leaders need to start pulling people together who maybe don't work together currently and be able to show them that they are on the same team working toward the same goal. “You're going to be asking people to work together and in new ways,” Hirsch said, "and that's going to mean change that will need to be managed carefully.”