Getting Started with Personalization

Posted Mar 14, 2016 by in Blog, Strategy, UX

The potential of customizing experiences and products for your buyers is tremendous. On average, marketers who provide and measure personalized web experiences see an increase of nearly 20% in sales (Econsultancy).

But many marketers—especially at large organizations—still struggle with getting started.

Broadly defined, personalization isn’t new. Tactics to deliver tailored experiences have been around for years (think user profiles and email segmentation). But recent technological advancements are enabling more and more companies to personalize better and faster—sometimes even on a first interaction.

On average, marketers who provide and measure personalized web experiences see an increase of nearly 20% in sales.

To get started, it is important to understand today’s personalization landscape. Essentially, there are three primary ways to tailor your user experience:

  • Customer Input: The user’s stated needs based on direct feedback or responses
  • Customer Action: The user’s unspoken needs based on their behavior
  • Customer Context: The user’s characteristics and context

Here’s a closer look at all three, as well as some best practices to keep in mind as you set out to harness the power of personalization for your organization.

Customer Input

Building a user profile with an onboarding flow or progressive information capture is the gold standard of personalization through user-provided data. With this approach, there is a clear exchange of value between the user and the brand: you get reliable information on your users, and your users get a tailored experience.

User profiles have gone mainstream, and people are more willing to provide data in exchange for personalization than ever before. According to a 2013 Janrain study, 57% of online consumers were comfortable providing personal information on a website as long as it’s for their benefit and being used in responsible ways.

Today’s best-in-class onboarding flows are not only useful—they’re often educational or fun.

Trunk Club

Above: Onboarding flow for Trunk Club

And stand-out flows aren’t just for retail—approaches like a product selector can work for a wide range of B2B brands.

Product selector for Lennox

Above: Product selector for Lennox

Customer Action

Compared to data that a user gives you, data based on their behavior—either on your site or online overall—can give you a richer sense of their true needs, and how you can personalize their experience. Why? Because there’s often disconnect between what people say they want and what they actually do.

Netflix and Amazon are probably the most ubiquitous examples of this kind of personalization. As Netflix’s VP of product innovation, Carlos Gomez-Uribe, told Wired, “Viewing behavior is the most important data we have…A lot of people tell us they often watch foreign movies or documentaries. But in practice, that doesn’t happen very much.”

Most companies don’t have the volume of user data that Netflix and Amazon do, but you can still make smart personalization moves—even based on one user session. What part of your site did they go to? What did they click on? You can probably intuit something about them, and what kind of offer or content would compel them to engage further.

However, relying on user action signals can be riskier because you have to nail your interpretation of their behavior. For example, is a someone on your site looking for themself, or someone else? Essentially, you have to consider the data’s context.

Evernote feature that suggests content based on user behavior

Above: Evernote feature that suggests content based on user action

Customer Context

There are a few ways to know about your visitors before they make a single click. From Google Analytics to third-party vendors, there are a bevy of tools that can provide:

  • Geolocation
  • Spending levels
  • Local weather
  • Company
  • Gender
  • Time of day
  • Clickstream
  • Referring URL
  • Device type (desktop or mobile)
  • Search keywords
  • Etc.

Any of these (or a combination thereof) can yield powerful ways to personalize your user’s experience, depending on your business and your objectives. The key here is to zero in on what information is most meaningful in terms of your buyer, and influencing their behavior.

Best Practices

No matter how you get the information by which you tailor the user’s experience, here are 5 key considerations for powerful personalization:

Establish your strategy. Identify who you’re personalizing for, where in their journey personalization could be most impactful, what part of the experience you’re personalizing—and why. What do you hope to learn and achieve? What will the user gain?

Select your tools. Whether you’re working with customer input, action, or context, there are many vendors out there that provide third-party data, tools to implement personalization on your site, and reporting. Be sure that the tool offers what you need to execute on your strategy.

Ace your data. In addition to the metrics you’ll be using to inform your users’ personalized experiences, you’ll need to measure how personalization is working for you. Make sure your staple analytics are set up right, like how you are measuring conversion.

Measure twice, cut once. You don’t want to pigeonhole people too early in the experience. And regardless of which approach you take, you’ll want to provide transparency and even give users a say in their personalized experience (e.g., via settings). This not only helps you to avoid making mistakes, but also helps foster trust between your users and your brand.

Trust your gut. Remember that personalization is, at it’s core, just plain good service. It’s the shopkeeper who remembers your kids’ names, or the bartender who remembers your drink. It can leave you with a smile for the rest of the day, and make you a loyal customer for life. Your data and tools are essential to implementing personalization, but the creating an enlightened, empathetic experience for your users is the key to getting it right.


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Co-written by Liz Juusola and Jason Valdina.