An Introduction to Personalization:
Don’t be a Stranger

Imagine you’re talking with someone you just met and you’re trying to get to know them better. The conversation is likely to move back and forth as you share information and details about yourselves. You may talk about where you live, what you do for a living, how many children you have, your plans for the rest of the weekend, what you like to do for fun, what you’d like to do in the future, what you’re interested in, some of your favorite things, things you like, things you don’t like, etc.

Imagine seeing that same person the next day, and they re-introduce themselves to you as if you never met – as if you had never engaged with them before, as if they know nothing about you. Then, imagine they go on to repeat the same questions, engage you in the same dialogue, and echo the same stories you heard from them before. It’s like they don’t even know you. It’s as if you’re stuck in a real-life version of Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates.

Being able to continue a conversation where you left off and to incorporate details that are relevant is an important part of building a relationship.

This expectation that a relationship will continue – picking up where you both left off – forms the underlying themes of countless TV shows like Friends or Cheers: When you walk into the room, everybody knows your name, remembers important, relevant facts about you, you’re just continuing and developing an established relationship.

For brands and companies, creating and continuing an individual, personal relationship with the customer is the essence of personalization; to create an experience for your customers that is less like Groundhog Day or 50 First Dates and more like Friends or Cheers.

Personalization is the antithesis of traditional mass marketing. Personalization, from a marketing, advertising, and experiential standpoint, is a delivered experience that is unique to each person, specific to each interaction, and which is created at scale for every individual customer. Personalization aims to connect with people by engaging with each as an individual. It fulfills the mission of creating thousands of different relationships between each customer with whom your brand, service, or company interacts. And that experience continues to evolve over time, dynamically changing after each interaction, while retaining previous details, preferences, decisions, and behaviors: Picking up exactly where you left off last.

The power of personalization comes from the ability to create an individualized, customized, personal, connected, and compelling experience for every single person at any given point in time.


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What is Personalization
(or a Personalized Experience)?

Personalized experiences can be hard to describe because they’re different for everyone. For example, your Amazon shopping suggestions will be different than mine because they are customized to you, based on such factors as the items you may have bought in the past, items you have viewed, personal preferences, seasonality, your on-line behavior, your customer lifetime value, and even questions you’ve asked Alexa.

Your Netflix home screen images and “You May Also Like” predictions will be different than mine because the home screen and suggested movies are driven by movies you’ve watched, shows you’ve stopped watching, genres, actors, or actresses that you show an affinity for, movies or shows that are currently in your watch list, etc.

The special offers you receive from Starbucks will be different than mine, driven by criteria that may include your order history, average order value, flavor profile, the time of day, and the weather in your geolocation.

Personalization is a strategy by which companies deliver individualized experiences to customers using data collection, technology, and automation.

Personalization is not static; it is a continuing learning process that incorporates elements of contextual-relevancy, and adaptive, reactive, predictive, and uniquely-tailored experiences. Simply put: Personalization is a customized, continual, and intimate experience between customers and companies. The goal of personalization is to establish a relationship and achieve a more human connection through key processes and themes.


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Understanding the concepts that drive personalization

Just like a real relationship, every interaction should serve as a foundation for the next interaction or experience. Regardless of time or place, channel or medium, device or person, personalization should be an ever-present part of the ongoing interactions occurring between a company and consumer to ensure that the consumer feels part of a one-on-one conversation.

To create a personalized experience, it’s critical to understand what elements it consists of. Personalization can be broken down into four key elements. Personalization must be Customized, Interconnected, Contextual, and Intimate:

 
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Customized

Personalization must be tailor-made for each customer, and should also be adaptive (personalization should be uniquely tailored to each person, responding and reacting to information and behaviors over time continuing to shape itself as the relationship with your customer builds) and predictive (personalization should aim to predict the next best action or in the relationship, unique to each customer’s journey).

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Interconnected

Personalization must be interconnected with customers, and should also be omni-channel (it should exist wherever and whenever a customer wants to engage, across devices, locations, channels, and touchpoints), and it must be continual (it should be adapt over the course of the customer relationship, accruing behavioral data about individuals, their interactions, and their needs, just as individuals retain and develop information in a human relationship).

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Contextual

Personalization must be both contextually-relevant (delivering timely messages, content, offers, and suggestions based upon past, present, and future circumstances that customers rely on) and immediate (personalization should aim to deliver on customer needs as they are discovered or change at the right place, right time, every time).

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Intimate

Personalization should create intimacy with customers through empathy (it should deliver a human experience for customers by understanding their wants, needs, and desires) and emotionality (it should establish familiarity and trust with customers over time by learning their predilections and aversions, wants and beliefs and creating a connection with them).

 

It is not enough that an experience is relevant to consumers; it must be hyper-relevant. In our modern era of instant gratification consumers are bombarded with messages, most of which are off target. Personalization – the tailoring of messages, content, offers, and experiences to individuals – helps to address these issues by creating an experience that is uniquely on-target.

By speaking the customers’ language, matching their expectations, addressing their questions, and fulfilling their wants and needs, you can expect to see an increase in key success performance metrics such as consumer awareness and engagement, sales, and customer satisfaction.


how personalization builds relationships

As customers, we’ve all had experiences that didn’t meet our expectations (lack of connection); we’ve all seen marketing content that had nothing to do with our interests (lack of contextual-relevancy); information, content, and offers that didn’t align with our needs; ill-timed information that was no longer useful (lack of customization); and experiences that simply didn’t align with our mindset or actions (lack of emotionality).

When customer expectations and customer experiences aren’t aligned, brands and companies and the experiences they offer may appear to be irrelevant and are disregarded.

Combined, a lack of connection, relevance, customization and emotionality are wasteful and detrimental to/for brands and result in sub-par experiences for customers.

The aim for marketing, advertising, and experiential messaging is to make a personal and emotional connection, to influence thoughts, perceptions, and ultimately, decisions and actions. Over time, marketers and advertisers have become increasingly able to engage with customers as individuals, ambitiously creating and growing a stronger human-to-human relationship.


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The Power of Personalization for improved Performance

Delivering personalized experiences can provide increased benefits for the brand, business, and the customer. Personalization gives businesses the opportunity to showcase the value customers obtain in exchange for sharing their information.

Additionally, businesses and brands can gain deeper insight into their customers’ behaviors and personal preferences and use these insights to create personalized offers, products, or services. Brands and businesses that enhance customer experiences through personalization also create a differentiated value proposition – that unique “something else” your experience provides that makes it stand out from other offerings – that can help your experiences command a premium price. The statistics below highlight the power of personalization.

 
  • 85% of internet users expect and accept personalization as a part of their online retail experience*

  • Personalized Calls-to-Action (or CTAs) perform 202% better than static (or basic) CTAs*

  • 44% of consumers say that they will likely become repeat buyers after a personalized shopping experience with a particular company*

  • 40% of U.S. consumers say they have purchased something more expensive than they originally planned because their experience was personalized*

  • Personalization can deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend, and can lift sales by 10% or more*

  • Marketers who leverage personalization strategies have almost unanimously stated (96% of respondents) that personalization helps lead to a lift in measurable business results (88%); increases conversion rates (63%); improves customer experience (61%); and increases visitor engagement (57%)*

  • Nissan realized a 200% improvement in its email open rate by using personalization in its emails*

  • Endurance International increased conversion by 71% after implementing targeted upselling inside the in-app experience*

  • Thomson Reuters improved its eCommerce conversion by 50% after adding relevant content leading to the product page*

  • Carhartt realized a 13% increase in revenue per customer, resulting from relevant product recommendations*

  • HelloFresh experienced double-digit growth in revenue per customer by providing personalized educational content about how to use the product*

 

The benefits of personalization are real, quantifiable, and clearly demonstrate increased value in driving relationships with customers.


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How to Make Personalization Happen
(Or, the 4 a’s of personalization)

Delivering personalization at scale requires investing and supporting its four fundamental components: Audience, Analytics, Art, and Automation.

 
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Audience

Focus, recognize, pursue, and reach your audiences on a personal level.

Marketers and brands must develop a deep understanding of their audience’s missions, journeys, decision-making journeys, customer use cases, and the intent behind customer actions. Generating the highest performance and greatest benefit from your audience requires building customer profiles that support multiple – flexible – attributes, allowing these profiles to be adjusted or enriched with each interaction, over time.

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Analytics

Collect, analyze, and leverage customer data and analytics.

Analytics are central to understanding if the right customer is being presented with the right content, messaging, or experience to deliver the right outcome. People have a wide range of interests, habits, objectives, and motivations, and the places where they interact with your company and brand can be equally widespread. The way to understand your customers is by bringing together all available data sources to create a full 360-degree view of the customers, their preferences, their actions, and their behaviors.

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Art

Planning, designing, and optimizing the personalization experience is truly a form of art.

If you have the right audience and analytics in place, the one of the last remaining pieces of the puzzle is the art of personalization. You must have the right people-focused teams, strategies, and tactics focused on deeply understanding, predicting, and reacting to customers in a human way; only after the marketing tech stacks have been trained and the results have been proven should you move towards automation. Having a cross-functional, connected, collaborative and dedicated team to manage personalization efforts will help deliver on the power of personalization.

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Automation

To make personalization happen at scale, it’s crucial to streamline all aspects and channels of personalization across strategy, marketing, advertising, content, and technology.

Personalization needs to happen at scale – with every customer at every touch point – to make it worth the investment. Automation of personalization tactics can help deliver on that. The biggest consideration in automation is starting with the right toolset (platform, technology stack, or connected ecosystem): The right toolset enables you to make the right decisions with the best message and deliver output at the right time, not only on a one-to-one level, but also at scale to interact with all customers at all times.

 

The Future of Personalization is happening Now

As modernization, globalization, and digital transformations level the playing field, providing everyone with increased access and choice, branding and personalized experiences can create a unique selling proposition that helps deliver added value to your customers.

In the world of increasing digital contacts and fewer human-to-human interactions, people increasingly form stronger bonds and trusted relationships with digital entities that fully master the elements of a relationship – intimacy, empathy, and relevancy.

Relationships between brands and customers are a two-way street.

When customers have so many points of access to the experiences that make up the modern consumer decision-making journey, personalization can help to create a better customer experience and a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.

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“Until now, marketers had two choices: They could either pick personalized, or scalable, but not both; they could opt for inefficient manual ways of personalized engagement or choose static digital marketing that scaled but took a one-size-fits-all approach. Machine intelligence is changing that. AI-driven brand storytelling intelligently adapts to a consumer’s unique preferences and behavior to deliver truly personalized stories at scale, by combining the human elements of storytelling with machine-powered personalization.”
Vijay Chittoor