By now we’ve estab­lished that per­son­al­iza­tion is crit­i­cal, whether a site vis­i­tor is a known entity or an anony­mous new­comer. But, with most vis­i­tors falling into that “unknown” bucket, the next log­i­cal ques­tion becomes “but how much per­son­al­iza­tion is enough?” If you don’t have that deep, mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion with the vis­i­tor, stem­ming from a conversion-based his­tory, how far can you take your per­son­al­iza­tion efforts—and if you miss, will you miss so hard that it actu­ally alien­ates instead of aligns?

Per­son­al­iza­tion” is really a blan­ket term for a host of expe­ri­ences and actions dri­ven by an organization’s knowl­edge of its con­sumers. When done right, per­son­al­iza­tion is a pow­er­ful force that cre­ates long-term brand affin­ity, con­sumer loy­alty, more streamlined—and faster—conversions, and greater over­all return on invest­ment (ROI). Cus­tomers feel good about your brand because you’ve ele­vated them to “spe­cial” sta­tus, and are wholly focused on their unique needs. The bet­ter they feel, the more they engage, pro­vid­ing implicit and explicit insights into their wants, needs, hopes, and dreams along the way. They become shop­pers, loy­al­ists, and, maybe, even brand evangelists.

But what about those first few inter­ac­tions, when you don’t quite know what makes the cus­tomer tick? Although you don’t know the indi­vid­ual, you likely know some­one who, at least at first, seems similar—maybe the known cus­tomer is also from San Fran­cisco. Maybe they both come to your site via tablets, dur­ing the after-dinner hours. Maybe they both looked at some pop­u­lar women’s run­ning sneak­ers you’re pro­mot­ing on your home­page, brand loy­al­ist from a direct hit, and the new­comer from a search.  

For mar­keters, these per­sonas are essen­tial to dri­ving rel­e­vance at scale. You no doubt have already devel­oped these overviews and in-depth pro­files of var­i­ous tar­get con­sumer buck­ets, based on who moves the nee­dle for your brand. They’re the work­ing moms on the move, the socially dri­ven mil­len­ni­als, the empty nesters who want sim­pli­fied expe­ri­ences. They are, in essence, card­board cutouts rep­re­sent­ing who your orga­ni­za­tion con­sid­ers the core con­sumer, and what they per­son­ify. You might not know the new­comer check­ing out the shoes, but the individual’s actions are start­ing to resem­ble those of some­one you’ve seen before! Although an in-depth, accu­rate con­sumer pro­file might not spring to the sur­face, a per­sona is emerg­ing. And that’s a pow­er­ful seg­men­ta­tion tool, too, if you can be flex­i­ble and let the data sig­nals steer the way.

Start with “Per­sonas” Then Grad­u­ate to “Personification”

Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion, very sim­ply, can be defined as “the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a thing or abstrac­tion in the form of a per­son, as in art,” or “the per­son or thing embody­ing a qual­ity or the like.” In terms of per­son­al­iza­tion, per­son­i­fi­ca­tion brings together qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive data, lever­ag­ing con­structed con­sumer pro­to­types for those first few inter­ac­tions, then chang­ing and adjust­ing your per­cep­tion and expe­ri­ence cre­ation as the vis­i­tor shares more and more per­sonal infor­ma­tion. By match­ing real-time behav­iors of the anony­mous user with past behav­iors and expressed pref­er­ences of known vis­i­tors, orga­ni­za­tions can make assump­tions and pre­dic­tions about these anony­mous con­sumers’ pat­terns and preferences.

Mar­ket­ing to vis­i­tors based on whom and what they per­son­ify can be an effec­tive, highly action­able tool for mar­keters. Instead of think­ing in the abstract, per­sonas have clear-cut attrib­utes and behaviors—again, think the busy mom, the mil­len­nial, and the empty nester. It’s not spot-on, but per­sonas give strong first steps to sniff­ing out con­sumer needs. From here, you can choose to refine the per­sona or “grad­u­ate” users to a more per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ence based on expressed desires, engage­ments, and conversions—or you might not. For some brands, per­son­i­fi­ca­tion works just fine.

Another ben­e­fit? A more detailed tar­geted con­sumer pro­file may start to emerge. Like I said, you no doubt have two, three, or even more per­sonas cir­cu­lat­ing, but this can be a major step in refin­ing not just your opti­miza­tion strat­egy but also your media and mar­ket­ing plans in gen­eral. From what mag­a­zines to adver­tise in to what events and pro­mo­tions you should look to roll out, you’ll be paint­ing a broad strokes pic­ture of who’s inter­ested and who’s buy­ing, which can help you seek them out in other, more tra­di­tional cor­ners of their lives.

Next: Con­tex­tu­al­ize It for Them

Now that you know all about your audience—some in broad swaths, some very deeply—your orga­ni­za­tion can tap into those pro­files to develop mean­ing­ful, tar­geted con­tent and con­tex­tual inter­ac­tions. Remem­ber, the name of the game is con­nect­ing con­sumers with rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences across all chan­nels, and con­tex­tual con­nec­tions are just that. Think stan­dard first, such as:

  • Geolocation-based con­tent, be it an app serv­ing up restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions on users’ home turf or deliv­er­ing a deal on snow boots when the weather takes a turn on the East Coast.
  • Mobile– and tablet-enabled con­tent and adap­tive design, mak­ing the expe­ri­ence for these users more seam­less. Think con­nect­ing these users with the right amount of opti­mized con­tent, prod­ucts, and ser­vices for their spe­cific experiences.
  • Path-driven rec­om­men­da­tions, fol­low­ing con­sumers as they browse, read, engage, and convert.

Con­tex­tual expe­ri­ences should be adap­tive and pre­dic­tive, and can stem from man­ual processes—which require mar­keters to cre­ate rules that dic­tate when, where, and why con­tent is served up—or auto­matic processes, which are based on prior behav­iors for the per­son or the per­sona. Either way, though, con­nect­ing the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion and con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion dots can push orga­ni­za­tions toward the all-important “rel­e­vance at scale” goal. When the man­date is just sig­nif­i­cant, one-on-one per­son­al­iza­tion, this kind of scale can seem unat­tain­able to many small and medium busi­nesses. In this sce­nario, you just need a per­sona or pro­file, past data, and real-time access.

My key take­away: per­son­al­iza­tion still reigns supreme. Per­son­i­fi­ca­tion and con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion can and should be tapped into as well. They’re both pow­er­ful forces under the per­son­al­iza­tion umbrella. Deliv­er­ing rel­e­vance at scale can be a daunt­ing task even for the most sophis­ti­cated orga­ni­za­tions. What con­sumers crave is that spot-on expe­ri­ence that solid per­son­al­iza­tion, in any form, deliv­ers. Devel­op­ing per­sonas, align­ing users with those “cutouts,” and per­son­i­fi­ca­tion through tar­geted con­tent, con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion, and mes­sag­ing can help orga­ni­za­tions bet­ter deliver rel­e­vant expe­ri­ences to the evan­ge­list and the unknown, and drill down on the core seg­ments that make up an audi­ence. And from here, your per­son­al­iza­tion efforts can truly boom in scope and scale, devel­op­ing, grow­ing, thriv­ing, and deliv­er­ing as the needs of your brand evolve and adjust.