Quick definition

Personalization is taking what we know about a person and their digital behavior at a given point in time and then determining and delivering the next best experience in order to have a positive impact on business objectives.

Key takeaways

Personalization involves taking customer data and figuring out how to provide the best experience possible to specific audience segments in real-time.

Personalization is essential in today’s market, as customers expect every interaction with a brand to meet their needs and preferences at any given time and through any digital connection.

Any company can begin to personalize their customer interactions based on data they already have — such as geolocation, device type, browser, connection speed, time of day, recency, and frequency.

Automation and machine learning improve personalization by determining trends in the data through constant analysis.

Brands should avoid over-personalizing and getting bogged down in the data.

Personalization requires an audience segment that is large enough to identify trends in the data.

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Drew Burns is the Group Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Target and works to evangelize the practice of personalization and content targeting in the digital marketing world.

What is personalization?

What is the difference between personalization and individualization?

What is the difference between personalization and customization?

What's the difference between personalization and optimization?

How does segmentation relate to personalization?

What information do companies use to personalize?

What is the process of personalization?

What are some pitfalls of personalization?

How does technology improve personalization?

Why is personalization important?

How can companies get started with personalization?

How can companies improve personalization?

Q: What is personalization?

A: Based on the visitors that are coming to a company's digital properties, which can include everywhere that a visitor is interacting with a brand, we’re taking what we know about the visitor to determine and deliver the next best experience to improve business metrics. The goal of personalization is to lead the customer to the next step in their purchase journey. That next step can be a conversion, such as a sale or registration or identifying themselves as a lead, or it can be an engagement, such as consuming more content or spending more time on a digital property.

Q: What is the difference between personalization and individualization?

A: WWith personalization, we're looking largely at online behavioral data — where someone clicked, what pages they visited, what page they came from — and that can all be anonymous. You can't determine trends of what someone will want to see by looking at audiences of one or by knowing someone’s name. Ironically, personally identifiable information (PII) is not helpful in creating personalized experiences.

However, once you do know individuals and start building individual customer profiles, you can add second- and third-party data that will give you more information about intent, demographics, interests, and lifestyle. This more individual information can help you create more granular audience segments for personalization.

Another difference between personalization and individualization is their effect on different phases of the customer journey. Personalization can be very effective at the awareness level because you can personalize experiences to unknown individuals. But individual communications like mobile app experiences or email campaigns are great for communicating with existing and known customers.

Q: What is the difference between personalization and customization?

A: Customization includes a larger set of activities than personalization. The goal of both is better relevance and being able to meet your customers’ expectations, but customization also addresses how well the customer can participate in that experience. For example, the user experience (UX) design may be customized to a specific type of experience without being personalized.

Q: What's the difference between personalization and optimization?

A: Optimization is a broader umbrella than personalization. It’s really about improving the experience — and sometimes, improving the experience is not based on an audience's preferences. It can just be asking, overall, what is a better experience?

The importance of optimization is ensuring you're putting your money where it's going to give you the best return or a time and cost savings, like reducing the number of calls you get at the call center. You can accomplish this by making it easier for someone to find the information they need when they search for it online.

Optimization, which also includes testing, is integral to personalization. Whether you're using an algorithm or you're testing to refine an experience, testing and personalization are both a part of that overall optimization umbrella and one really should work with the other.

Q: How does segmentation relate to personalization?

A: Part of the personalization process is understanding which audience segments have a higher propensity for moving taking a specific action and moving closer to conversion. Brands segment audiences to focus on identifying the highest-value customers. They can do this by determining which audience segments are most likely to engage in a specific way or are most positively affected when they see a specific version of your content. And in that case, you want to take action with that audience segment.

Q: What information do companies use to personalize?

A: Personalization can take place across the entire visitor journey. It can start at first touch, when someone's completely anonymous, using information such as location or device type or browser. There might also be distinguishing factors in there, like language, that impact the experience that the user is expecting to see or wants to see.

Information pulled from anonymous users can also include the device the customer is using. A person’s behavior on a desktop, where they can read more long-form content, is going to be different than on a mobile device, where they may just be browsing products or want to read a blurb because of the screen size. Also, many people are on the go with a mobile device versus being seated perhaps for a longer session at a desktop.

Companies also look at the number of times a user visited a site, what the user is browsing, where they came from, and even the time of day, as behavior in the morning when someone is commuting is going to be different than behavior at lunchtime on a desktop.

Q: What is the process of personalization?

A: PPersonalization begins with whatever data you have. There are different levels of data that you have about an individual at different points. At first touch, you've got a lot of immediate circumstantial data. As they continue to engage with your content, you may get a little more context. After they authenticate, you get even more.

Personalization takes on a different role, depending on where a visitor is in their journey with a brand. The second step is determining the right thing to do to deliver an experience that will appeal to your audience in a way that will keep them moving forward. That can be as subtle as a text change, from changing the wording to changing the full message. It can be an image change — showing a family versus a couple versus an individual. Or it could be a full design change. The design can be adapted to make the content or products that someone's more likely to engage with more prominent.

Another example could be someone that's more interested in shopping versus reading articles on a site that offers both commerce and content. To personalize their experience on your site you could push the articles higher up and put the purchase information further down. You can also remove content that isn’t as valuable to certain segments. This process of personalization continues throughout a customer’s journey.

If a customer is browsing a site and doesn't ultimately purchase before leaving but then comes back, personalization activities probably included remarketing or retargeting experiences based on the last session. Personalization can also incorporate offline interactions and connect those back to online interactions.

Q: What are some pitfalls of personalization?

A: Because personalization is based on data, it can be easy to go down a rabbit hole and try to boil the ocean with all your data. Ideally, you don’t want a personalization solution to be working in isolation from your data, because now you’re only looking at the data that you’re natively collecting or bringing in as well and looking at behavior within activities that you’re running in the personalization solution. What you do want is an analytics solution capturing data about the information that can give you the best insights on what you should be doing in terms of activities in a personalization solution.

Another pitfall is to over-personalize, or hyper-personalize. If someone purchases a product and continues to see ads for that product, not only are you exposing your personalization efforts, but you're also hitting the customer with something that is not relevant. This has the opposite effect and is also inefficient in terms of your campaign dollars. Ultimately, you want personalization to be seamless, making it easier for someone to engage with you.

Q: How does technology improve personalization?

A: Because the amount of data companies can collect is increasing, they must determine what data is most valuable. That's something that analytics and algorithms can help with. Automation can help by determining if rules are still relevant, or if trends in the data have changed. And an algorithm can help because it self-optimizes. It looks at how things are changing over time and determines the next best experience.

There are things that have been done to streamline the content process and to create greater velocity. The first is improving visual editing capabilities in the solution. So it’s about allowing a person to edit content on the fly as they're setting up an activity, rather than having to go through a creative team for different versions of the same content or go through the IT team to get something published.

The second is automation, such as quickly discovering what content is not valuable and being able to discard it. Quickly determining what is working and what's not can help streamline the process and improve conversion rates.

Then the third way to streamline content velocity is by sourcing templated content from a content management solution like Adobe Experience Manager. If you use an experience fragment, it’s not a fully completed piece of content. It’s a template that you can customize on the fly to create multiple variations, making it easier to create versions that you can personalize and not requiring completed pieces of content to be created en masse.

Q: Why is personalization important?

A: Personalization is no longer optional. It’s the expectation that any visitor has with a brand they're engaging with. As a society, our patience with a brand is shrinking each day. It's critical to deliver the right customer experience. It's also critical to stay competitive.

From a business standpoint, personalization can be the catalyst for streamlining your processes. It makes you more productive and lowers the costs required to acquire visitors and customers and invest in things that are going to give you the greatest return.

Q: How can companies get started with personalization?

A: Personalization has a low barrier to entry. It's very easy to get started. A good place to start is category affinity. Where are users spending time on the site? You can put users in a completely different lobby and show them a completely different experience if they are looking at one set of products versus another or based on how much time they spend looking at each product. Start with the basic data already available.

Companies think it's complex or try and make it overly complex rather than focusing on what's obvious. There's a lot of data at a company's fingertips, and the key to getting started is to look at that low-hanging fruit and take advantage of one or two pieces of valuable data you already have.

Q: How can companies improve personalization?

A: The companies that already do personalization well understand the effort needed to accomplish personalization and how long it takes for them to build content. Part of getting up to a mature stage is not just looking at what you're driving in terms of impact, but also how efficiently you're doing it.

What companies can do is look at the next steps in their program and do a cost-benefit analysis. Companies that already personalize have a pretty good idea of the impact that they will receive from doing an activity. And they also have a good idea of how much it's going to cost for them to do it. And so they can prioritize the next steps by taking into account the business impact and how long it's going to take and the cost that's related to doing it.

You can also get to a point where you're like an assembly line, where you're doing larger initiatives that might be costly but have a big impact. And then you’re also running less costly, high-yield activities in-between so you're maximizing the value you get from personalizing your customer experiences.

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