Today’s consumers expect a personalized experience when they shop online, but personalization is easier said than done. So we sat down with Brett Bair, senior director of Digital Marketing Insights and Strategy at Monetate, to get his top tips. Read on to learn what he says is the winning position to take in a customer-centric world, and why he wishes you’d just start personalizing already.
We’ve heard several definitions of personalization. How do you define it? Or, put another way, can you tell us what personalization is not?
Personalization is the act of using available customer data to modify a part of their experience based on that data.
What are today’s consumers looking for from brands when they shop online? How personal do they want the experience to be?
I think today’s customers expect brands to leverage the data they have about them in compelling and relevant ways. If I buy from the same product category every time I visit your site, make it easier for me to shop those products when I come back. Maybe show me what’s new and exciting in that category, or other complementary items across your site.
A recent Monetate Ecommerce Quarterly report showed that bounce rates are up, average order values are down and conversion rates continue to decline. Personalization can counter those negatives, so why aren’t more ecommerce businesses using it? Is it so difficult that only the most sophisticated teams can pull it off?
There are a number of reasons why brands aren’t embracing personalization, and the reality is that most of the reasons just don’t cut it. The main reason is people assume that they need to create 100 different versions of their homepage in order to begin offering more relevant experiences. Of course, the notion of 100 different versions of the homepage is overwhelming to most organizations. The problem is that anxiety or fear actually stops them from creating even just two versions of their homepage—say, one for returning customers and a different one for first-time customers.
What tools do you need to begin personalizing?
You need a solution that allows you to target different customers and deliver tailored content, functionality, etc. based on those targets. Aside from tools, you also need an effective internal governing process to ensure all organizational stakeholders are engaged. In our experience, the brands with the best internal alignment and decision-making processes tend to benefit the most from their personalization strategy.
When does personalization become invasive, and how can you keep your brand from crossing that line with consumers?
I think the first thing you have to ask yourself is, “how does this make the experience better for the customer?” That’s the winning position to take in a customer-centric world. When brands leverage data in a smart and useful way, both parties benefit. That said, Monetate goes to great lengths to ensure customer data is both secure and anonymized.
Can you give us some examples of companies you feel are doing personalization well? What are they doing that sets them apart?
I think the best companies are finding unique and engaging ways to utilize customer data to deliver tailored experiences. Johnston & Murphy does a great job with this—they use data from their CRM to identify various shopper attributes, then use that data to give a customized experience. They have a special experience for visitors for members of their loyalty program, for instance. They also cross-promote different product categories based on past purchase behavior. And they do it in a really smart way that doesn’t seem intrusive or overly promotional.
DIRECTV is another great example. They use information from the USPS to identify potential customers who have recently moved to a new address. They then deliver tailored content to those movers, helping them make sense of all their options during a time that can be particularly stressful. It’s an example of a company using personalization to offer both special offers and relevant content to deliver an extra level of value.
What are some techniques people are using that aren’t working?
One of the biggest things I see is brands that think product recommendations by themselves is personalization. Yes, in some cases recommendations work and may improve conversion rates. But a lot of the recommendation engines out there are product-centric, not people-centric. Similarly, welcoming me back with a custom message is personalization, but it might not convince me to be more loyal to your brand or to complete the purchase.
What’s the biggest barrier to doing personalization well?
Fear of taking the first step. Thinking 1-to-1 personalization is the only form of personalization—and that it’s so unachievable—that I may as well not do anything at all.
How do brands use what they’ve learned to continually improve the shopping experience?
The smart brands are constantly leveraging learnings, trying new things, and pushing the envelope. Unfortunately, far too many brands have the insights and learnings but don’t take any actions. I’ve heard a client say, “We know that isn’t a good experience we just haven’t gotten around to fix it,” far too many times. That kind of attitude will drive away even your most loyal customers.
What’s the future of personalization?
The future of personalization is the ability to deliver true 1-to-1 experiences that scale by combining marketer insight and advanced machine learning.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give ecommerce professionals about personalization?
Don’t wait. Your customers are already exposed to great personalized experiences. The bar has already been raised. The longer you wait, the faster your brand will become irrelevant.