I’ve wanted to tackle this series for a while—an ongoing look at personalization, diving into the nitty-gritty in a big way. Bring in the experts from around Adobe who can speak to their unique arm of the business—and the relevance story in general—and demystify an overwhelmingly essential piece of the digital experience that has been murky for too long. So here goes: part one.

When it comes to personalization in general, we can all agree that as consumers, we desire personalized experiences. They make us feel good. We react emotionally when things line up the way we want them. And that kind of visceral response to a product, service, or content sends efficiency through the roof.

What still eludes marketers: what “personalization” really boils down to. It’s an overused term, so unnecessarily complicated and so provocative at times that it can get lost in translation. And if you aren’t speaking that relevant language—remember, personalization is all about relevance—then it’s no surprise you aren’t seeing the personalization payoff, and no wonder the concept continues to confound you and your organization.

So let’s kick off the series, starting with the guts of personalization and what it means for your business and its customers.

Think back to the pre-Internet days. Growing up, the neighborhood butcher knew everyone in the neighborhood, and exactly what cuts of meat to hold for them—even bones for their dogs. The butcher and other community stores were bustling hubs of personalized experiences, and what helped local businesses thrive up until the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Now, the corner store has gone digital and, with it, is that much larger with even greater opportunities for alignment and connectivity. But, at the end of the day, it’s that highly relevant, one-to-one marketing we all crave . . . and respond to.

So if the notion of personalization is so simple, why is it so elusive? For many, it’s often that next step—you know you need to be spot-on relevant to your customers, but now what? Being relevant means aligning with your individual consumers to the point that the engagement experience becomes so in tune with their needs, movements, searches, product interactions, and responses that they’re compelled to action. I always wanted what the corner store clerk was holding special for me.

Although the notion of being relevant hasn’t changed over the last few decades, today’s personalization operates at a scale that the corner store could never have imagined. This type of high-level connectivity is done through a host of optimization best practices and a solid commitment to testing and sticking to the data-driven decisioning that results. You know your customers, you greet them when they arrive, and you lead them on relevant journeys filled with spot-on recommendations, offers, announcements, and promotions, increasing their satisfaction with your brand and driving engagement, purchase, and, ultimately, a powerful loyalty—which requires further relevance to sustain and grow. This boils down to always being “on.”

Bridging the gap between the determination that personalized experiences matter and getting to “go”—and beyond—can still be the  stumbling block. Start with the basics: you know something about every customer. New or returning, known or anonymous, some digital fingerprint exists. For the anonymous customer it could be geolocating—offering a pair of rain boots to someone in Florida during a particularly damp month. And for the known user there are infinite applications and possibilities. The most obvious example, of course, is Amazon and its “Amazonification” of the online shopping experience. From the minute I get to the site every offer, every push, every recommendation seems like it was crafted just for me.

Most likely your organization is in those earlier stages, somewhere between ad hoc personalization and Amazon proportions. So what, then, constitutes personalization? Plenty of tactics and strategies.

  • Personalized greetings—say hello to me when I arrive!
  • Relevant ads or content pieces that align with past searches or conversion points.
  • Complementary product or service recommendations. If I bought a pasta pot last month I likely don’t need another, but I might like some gourmet olive oil or a top-of-the-line colander.
  • Follow them on their journey, through your site and beyond. Think retargeting (a topic we’ll explore down the road) or email marketing that drives back to your site based on recent purchases, expressed preferences, and more.

Step two is building that profile. We’ll dive into the anonymous visitor but, likely, after they’ve visited your site that critical first time they won’t be a stranger anymore. Craft a view of your customers—and keep it simple:

  • Behavioral variables—how did they get to you, what did they do once they got to you, and where did they engage?
  • Purchase or conversion patterns—what did they want and what might they want in the future.
  • Temporal considerations, including when they visited and how long they lingered.
  • Geolocation data.
  • Where they’re coming from—the device, the platform, and the browser.
  • Where they came from—search? ads? direct? That makes a difference.
  • Expressed preferences—who doesn’t like to talk about themselves? When they opt-in ask them what they like and what they don’t, when their birthday falls and, even more blunt, exactly what they want to see and hear from you. You’d be surprised what you get by being direct.

Then keep collecting and refining, refining and collecting, testing, optimizing, and striving to gather more relevant data to make every customers’ journey more personalized from start to finish.

Step three is leveraging this potentially vast amount of data. Having and recognizing the power of data and analytics doesn’t matter if you can’t use it effectively. This is where audience segmenting, data-driven decisioning, and automation come into play. The bigger and more diverse your organization becomes in terms of visitors, the less likely you as a human marketer will be able to successfully steer the personalization ship. That doesn’t mean you’re out of the equation, it just means you need to funnel your tacit knowledge into informing an automated powerhouse that can deliver the right action, recommendation, or content to the right customer at the right moment.

More on automating personalization in the coming weeks.

Having this complex, meaningful, actionable relationship with your customers—and actually acting on it—is what personalization is all about. Being that corner store or local butcher and remembering my preferences—then delivering what I want when I want it—is what being relevant is all about. Spot-on relevance never gets tiresome or redundant—it only improves and refines with age and depth.

Personalization is simple and necessary. Don’t let your organizational waters get muddied with unnecessary chatter and ill informed tactics. At the end of the day, personalization is about delivering 24/7 relevance to every customer. It started with the local corner store and has morphed into its (massive, global-reaching, omnichannel) digital cousin. But the rules haven’t changed. 

This is just the jumping off point to what I hope will be an ongoing conversation covering all things personalization.

Let the personalization begin.