The results are in, and “optimization” is clearly top-of-mind with marketers and corporate decision makers around the globe. Despite their vastly varying businesses, one thing universally bubbled to the top: personalization is key. That shouldn’t surprise anyone—where isn’t an increased conversion rate and enhanced return on investment (ROI) at the top of an organization’s “must-have” list?

This year’s survey polled more than 1,000 respondents from across North American, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and, no matter the industry, 75 percent of respondents indicated personalization is important to their organization’s long-term goals—but most aren’t quite there yet, limited by budgets, times, or skillsets. However, with enviable conversion rates for the top 20 percent of respondents (they’re showing greater than 4.5 percent conversions or more, versus 2.6 percent across the field), we all, as marketers, need to set our sights on getting there.

“It’s clear that delivering personalized experiences is essential to converting visitors into customers,” said Michael Krypel, executive director of Adobe Digital Consulting and author of Refining Design for Business: Using Analytics, Marketing, and Technology to Inform Customer-centric Design. “As these top performing companies show us, investing in a research-based approach through testing and optimization allows them to make better decisions and realize significant returns.” 

So what do top performers do that the bottom 80 percent doesn’t? Plenty. Here’s a topline roundup, but I’ll have even more on the topic—specifically more from Michael—in the coming weeks, all emerging from his deep dive into 20 leading companies.

They test, test, and test some more, so “next steps” are meaningful

Tests, for the top 20 percent, are seen as critical decision-making tools through which anything can be evaluated. It’s likely no surprise, then, that 70 percent of these top performers used a variety of testing methods and capabilities, compared to less than half for the remaining respondents.

The biggest hold up could be cultural, as shifting from “gut-driven” to data-driven can be a hurdle for organizations. But this approach is more critical than ever: companies who move to optimization-driven decisions increase conversions by upward of 100 percent.

To get there, stick to the basics. Keep the data clean and consistent and let it dictate priorities. Determine your key performance indicators (KPIs) and how you’ll gauge success, and bring stakeholders into the conversation early on so they’ve got skin in the game. Then, when you’ve got those first few wins, shout it from the rooftops. Buy-in comes on the heels of those successes, so strike while the iron is hot.

The money/mouth equation

Once you’ve nailed down those first few wins, gaining budgetary support gets that much easier. The top 20 percent are 54 percent more likely to allocate more than 5 percent of their budget to testing and optimization, versus 44 percent from the overall pool who spend less than 5 percent.

Naturally, it’s all connected—organizations that invest more generate higher conversion rates, which can become that critical reinvestment down the road. But, again, it all starts with those first few attainable wins, for businesses big and small.

Another interesting finding to note is where that money’s going. When asked which customer experience tactics they utilized, the bottom 80 percent and top 20 percent ordered the 16 tasks identically, with website analytics taking the top spot—89 percent of the top 20 versus 80 percent of the bottom 80—followed by social media analytics, social sharing, email optimization, and customer reviews. However, top performances were 46 percent more likely to be using optimization capabilities overall, with areas like audience segmentation, mobile analytics, and A/B testing showing the greatest separation between top and bottom—111 percent, 90 percent, and 60 percent, respectively.

Content should be targeted

Content has long been king and, in this relationship-driven era of digital marketing, that crown has never mattered more. Advertisers and brands demand those unique, organic, content-driven experiences. The top 20 percent were 43 percent more likely to be using content targeting on their sites. Similarly, more than four in five were more likely to use data and automation to steer decision making.

Be wise—democratize

By democratizing your efforts, you’ll be tapping into experts in those niche pockets of your organization who, otherwise, may not be part of the conversation, but who can move the needle in major ways. Top performers were 88 percent more likely to tap into other departments for contributions and expansions and, in exchange, those organizations saw a lift in conversions from 2.6 percent to 4.3 percent. The takeaway? Make your efforts integral to everyone’s successes and day-to-day business processes, and you’ll have the kind of meaningful buy-in that drives innovation and success.

But it goes further. The most successful brands automate their efforts to ensure maximize real-time efficiencies. Top performers are 36 percent more likely to utilize automation for testing and sharing wins. The benefits are clear. As I’ve said before, it’s irrational to think you, as a human marketer, can make the kind of real-time turns and meaningful consumer connectivity that an automated system can. Naturally, they need marketers keeping their fingers on the pulse of the campaign, but democratizing to the machine is incredibly critical to growing relevance at scale.

Mobile matters

The top 20 percent far outshined the bottom 80 percent in the mobile bucket: more than four in five deemed mobile an important piece of their cross-channel marketing efforts this year, versus just two in three of the remaining organizations. How much does it matter? Lots. Nearly one in three respondents said 21–40 percent of traffic comes from mobile, including smartphones, tablets, and apps, and 11 percent saw 41–60 percent from this source. And that number’s only going to increase.

Start by looking at the numbers you’ve got. Nearly half of all retail traffic comes from mobile so, if you’re an e-commerce site, you’ve likely already got some good data. Enhance it with geolocation information (one of the beauties of mobile marketing) and serve up a relevant offer based on location and see where it takes you.

Finally, look at your existing site. Is it mobile enabled? Do you need a complementary app? The survey seems to say yes: mobile consumers spend four times as long in a tablet app and 2.5 times longer in a smartphone app versus a website on the same device. Concerned with critical mass? Global app downloads are set to hit 300 billion by 2016. Everyone’s using them.

As in previous years, this comprehensive survey delivered an in-depth look at a broad swath of industries and organizations, from the optimization mature to the ad hoc testers. However, it’s those top performers who are stepping up their optimization game and, likewise, reaping the benefits in a big way. If there are hurdles within your organization, now is the time to leap over, bust through or wow with your optimization-driven wins. Whatever it takes, it’s time to test, optimize, and personalize.

I’ll go even deeper into this when we look at Michael’s book and some of 20 companies he tapped into for their practical approaches to leveraging data and informing customer-centric designs—think power players like American Express, Dell, Facebook, Google, Hightail, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the Washington Post. It’s exciting stuff—this is just the tip of the iceberg.