The unspoken complexity of personalization

The unspoken complexity of personalization
By Nick Swami and Colin Eagan
Nick Swami
Director, Digital Experience
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For any size of brand, working at any scale, personalization is table stakes. And that doesn’t just mean a name in an email. Personalization should reflect what you know about your customers, and this should be present across any communication channel, during any experience they have on-premises, and as they interact via web chat or with customer service, just to name a few. Digitally-savvy consumers have elevated expectations, and not just meeting those, but exceeding them, requires a seamless experience across all touchpoints along their journey.

Scaling an individualized experience, which considers a 360-degree view of the customer, to a massive audience is a huge challenge for most brands. Many organizations fall into the trap of just trying to use the customer data they have to deliver a better experience, but that’s not necessarily effective personalization. True personalization is really about how you use the data your consumers have entrusted you with to deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time, via the right channel. It’s about relevancy—what the right experience is for that person at that moment. That level of personalization results in a deeper, emotional connection to your brand, increased advocacy, and even shared identity with your customer.

Starting small and a focus on learning

With so many individual customer journeys, brands need to determine where to focus their efforts, because you simply can't do everything at once. No brand is equipped to create a thousand different pieces of content to serve up to a thousand different types of customers. Instead, focus on homing in on what is most meaningful for your key segments—that’s your starting point.

It's a waste of time, money, and effort to attempt to build out for every possible scenario. Start by building some content for a specific audience and focus on the learnings from early testing to determine where you're going to prioritize your efforts going forward. Know that it’s not realistic to deliver a truly individual experience to every single user, but you can deliver an experience that feels individual and relevant by focusing on meeting your customers where they are with content and offers that speak to them. For example, does it make sense to personalize a landing page after a customer clicks to your site from a campaign? Or do you have a high enough volume of content or products to support a “recommend” feature?

Regardless of where you begin, we suggest starting with a content modeling effort, in which you identify your main content types and the audiences they are geared toward. Beginning with a structured content backbone as a foundation and building on that with strong tagging and taxonomy management, is integral to ensuring scalability and enabling delivery of elevated, seamless experiences regardless of channel. It's really about identifying key segments and starting small, as opposed to trying to solve for every challenge at once. It’s crucial to establish this solid foundation on which to iterate—then work to refine your strategy and process over time.

Leveraging data and moments that matter

Beyond starting small and getting the foundation right, to set themselves up for success, brands should give a lot of consideration to segmentation and audience early on. Where personalization is being delivered—or the customer touchpoints—is also key to success. There are many different instances and channels on which your consumers are engaging with your content—showing up for them in a way that shows you are paying attention is crucial.

Really understanding your customers through their data and distilling what feels right or valuable to them starts with identifying the moments that matter—those moments within their customer journey when your brand can have the most impact. Many companies fall down when they prioritize and invest in technology over data analytics. They focus on having the latest, greatest “shiny object” to serve up content and to deliver real-time interactions, without fully leveraging their first- and zero- party data. They aren’t learning enough about their customers to develop content that is truly relevant to them—and it’s obvious.

Personalization as a means to an end, not the goal

While customers expect this elevated level of personalization, don’t make the mistake of viewing personalization as a goal in itself. Personalization is a means to an end, but that could look very different depending on your specific business model and your organizational objectives. For example, are you spending money on personalization in order to improve customer feedback scores? Drive more sales? Reduce time on key tasks? Personalization at its core is an outcome of strong CRM rooted in a deep knowledge of your customers. Instead of focusing on it as this big goal where nobody knows where to start, start with your customer—and the data that informs what you know about them—and the rest will follow.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the authors
  1. Nick Swami, Director, Digital Experience
  2. Colin Eagan, Colin Eagan - Partner, User Experience Strategy

    Colin is a user experience strategy expert with more than 10 years of experience in content strategy and information design.   View bio

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