Personalization: explicit and implicit, some do’s and don’ts

Would you still show the exact same website to every visitor? The digital age has led the push to personalized content.

At its simplest, personalization is about creating and delivering digital experiences that are customized based on some information. One example is geolocation. If you were a sports apparel online store, you might show hiking or skiing gear to website visitors from the northern hemisphere in the winter season, and swimming and snorkelling accessories to those from the tropical regions.

The benefits of personalization are clear, as this graphic sums up.

More relevant content for visitors means more conversions and better business for you.

To get there, you need: 1) data, 2) segmentation, 3) personalized content. Personalization can be explicit or implicit.

Explicit personalization is based on information that users give you. Examples include:

-Visitors log in at your website, create user profiles that are linked to your CRM and receive e-mails
-Users indicate their interests and content preferences and subscribe to specific channels
-Data that you mine through social media and social logins
-Loyalty program signups such as those for supermarket chains and in the travel sector (airlines, hotels, car rentals)

Implicit personalization is based on information that you figure out from users’ behavior and context. Examples include:

-Tracking anonymous visitors based on geolocation and time, such as suggesting flight deals based on IP addresses
-Showing new vs. returning visitors different variations of content
-Targeting promotions to visitors based on their browsing history or shopping cart
-Assembling dynamic landing pages for visitors who land on your website from a particular campaign

The state of personalization is mixed. Some are very advanced. For instance, a retailer uses an AI rule engine that picks content items for each visitor segment from a content pool. Most are getting started. A supermarket chain that has collected a wealth of customer loyalty data from its brick-and-mortar stores is just starting to deal with linking this data to its digital presence.

About 61% of customers said they were more likely to buy from companies delivering customer content, as research by McKinsey shows.

Is there “bad personalization” or tactics that misfire? Some pitfalls to avoid:

1. Don’t make assumptions based on a single interaction.
E.g. a female customer looks for baby clothing as a gift for a friend; the online store assumes she’s expecting and pounds her with ads for baby food and diapers.

2. Don’t send too many messages.
If you’ve booked a flight, periodic e-mails about hotels and rental cars might be a nice touch, but certainly not daily e-mails counting down the start of your holiday.

3. Don’t rely on out-of-date information.
A payment system that stores credit card details should be set to ask the customer for updates when a card expires, not simply auto-fill with outdated information.

4. Don’t get customer details wrong.
It’s such a let-down when you get your customer’s address wrong, or worse, misspell their name. Personalization means paying attention to the fine details and getting them right in the first place.

Here are some tips for personalization, for whatever stage you are at:

1. Just start. Start simple.

2. Split your audience into the most important segments.

3. Tag content to match those segments.

Ticino.ch, a tourism portal for the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, introduced a homepage that is personalized with different content depending on the user’s current geographical location and language selection. By identifying personas and dividing tourists into three segments (residents, day-tourists and medium-to-long-term distance tourists), ticiono.ch was able to give different visitors relevant information and tailored digital experiences.

4. Experiment and iterate as you gain more insights.

5. Map out your customer journeys. Identify the touchpoints that matter and optimize those.

In the airline business, the customer journey stretches across several touch and drop-off points: After booking a flight, travellers usually select their seat and meal, then they can be prompted to look for a hotel or a rental car, before proceeding to payment. JetBlue designed trigger e-mails around these customer touchpoints based on two factors: the customer’s destination city and loyalty program status. It found that compared with standard promotional e-mails, these trigger e-mails led to higher open rates and conversions, which generated more revenue.

6. When you have identified the touchpoints, focus also on optimizing the entire customer journey, making it faster, smoother, more engaging.

Sungevity, a residential solar panel provider, was able to provide seamless, personalized digital customer journeys by managing data about the solar potential of individual homes and coordinating the end-to-end process of sales, custom installation and service. It customized and automated each step of the customer journey, making it so simple and compelling that customers moved from one step to the next and stayed within the “loyalty loop”. Sungevity saw sales double, exceeded its growth targets and became one of the fastest-growing players in the residential solar business.

7. With customer journeys becoming increasingly fragmented, try to capitalize on micro-moments:

-When customers are in a “I-want-to-know” moment, they will be more responsive to content that provides an answer or solution rather than sales messages. According to Google, 87% of consumers do research before visiting a physical store.

-When customers are in a “I-want-to-go” moment, they will be more responsive to search results, maps and directions on where something is located, rather than product information.

-When customers are in a “I-want-to-do” moment, they are looking for ideas, tips or pointers to complete a task. Serve them with recipes, step-by-step guides and how-to videos or tutorials.

-When customers are in a “I-want-to-buy” moment, they are looking for the best deals and how to get them. Offer them coupons, special promotions, a shopping app or one-click ordering feature.

When it comes to personalizing content and digital experiences, almost every company thinks that they are lagging behind. But you can make a difference even with basic, simple personalization. Just get started. Analyze the results and improve. Then gradually think about upping your personalization game.

This is the second in a series of four blog posts on “Content commerce: Behind and beyond the buzzwords”. The next posts will take a closer look at omnichannel and headless.

Find out about Magnolia for commerce.