Mass personalisation? Be patient, great things take time...

OPINION / 30th August 2016

Organisations across every vertical recognise the increasing importance of offering customers a relevant and engaging online experience.

Wouldn’t it be great as a CMO to know that every engagement an individual has with your brand is consistent, personalised in real time and, because of this, conversions soar higher than ever? Mmm… digital nirvana achieved.

As fantastic as that is however, it cannot be achieved overnight. Although few marketers would argue that personalisation does not increase conversions, why do 38% of organisations still not implement such a strategy on any channel? Could it be multiple obstacles of conflict between different departments or a lack of digital strategy in place? Ultimately, personalisation does not happen at the flick of a switch. It is a gradual process that requires meticulous planning and investment, both in technology and personnel.

So where is the best place to start?

At the absolute beginning; engraining the idea that personalisation is not a tactical activity, but a differentiator to the competition. To get senior stakeholder backing, which is needed in order to create a long-term plan, it is important to justify the assembly of a crack cross-organisational team who can put a long-term personalisation plan together. However, before flying gung-ho into the boardroom with your 50-slide Powerpoint deck on how you will make your boss millions through website optimisation, it is important to stress that results will not be immediate.

I used to work at Sitecore, arguably the top web content management company in the world. Sitecore’s tagline is “Own the Experience” and will always resonate with me as one of the most important points to remember when diving into any sort of digital project that centres around personalisation. In order to “Own the Experience” it takes time. Sitecore devised their own model which represented this: the Customer Experience Maturity Model.

What this chart represents is that digital progression is made in stages. You do not just immediately jump to the ‘Lifetime Customers’ column because you personalised one component of the homepage to say “Hi Sam”. You move through the model by incorporating a baby steps approach. One A/B test here, a small engagement plan there, a creation of a persona somewhere else… as you optimise and personalise, the results will improve. Suddenly, your website is more than just a piece of brochureware; you actually acquire new customers and cross-sell to existing customers. The ROI of investing in your digital portfolio no longer becomes an issue for those who are responsible for the numbers.

It is still, however, tough out there

Whether you are a traditional banking corporation up to your neck in bureaucracy and regulation or an airline who forever needs to satisfy their investors, digital has to be top of the agenda. The creation of a frictionless, personalised customer experience across multiple channels and touch points has been the ‘digital nirvana’ for years now (Figure 3). And it is still going to be for a long time yet.

So to answer my earlier question: where is the best place to start? Well try these:

1. Create both a short and long-term personalisation plan. Aligning your long-term digital strategy with overall business strategy is vital to ensure you don’t lose the purpose of a personalisation strategy in the first place. Moreover, quick personalisation tweaks can result in rapid wins; for example, a personalised message on your homepage. Remember to centre every single decision on what the customer wants: they are the ones you ultimately need to please. 
2. Make sure you invest in the right technology that will enable the realisation of the ‘art of the possible’. 
3. My final point is embrace synergy and co-operation. In order for your organisation to be successful with personalisation, departmental silos need to go. IT and Marketing need to become a team and benefit from each other’s strengths. Throw down your pitchforks and embrace each other. As one colleague once told me; breathe, filter, it’s only a website.

* Econsultancy’s Conversion Rate Optimisation Report 2014