Going into Sum­mit, I had my eye on my ses­sion with inno­va­tor and rev­o­lu­tion­ary, Sai Kop­paka of Sears. Our topic was trans­form­ing dig­i­tal strat­egy through always-on opti­miza­tion, some­thing I cov­ered in-depth in the weeks lead­ing up to the break­out. Sai was the per­fect cop­re­sen­ter for this cutting-edge assess­ment of the cus­tomer, the ever-increasing need for rel­e­vance, and the ramp up of per­son­al­iza­tion in this high-momentum rela­tion­ship era.

The main take­away? You’ve got to always be on. Cus­tomers are in a posi­tion to take full con­trol of the buy­ing and con­ver­sion process, and this can have dire con­se­quences for mar­keters. At the same time, it poses a unique oppor­tu­nity for you to deliver above and beyond expec­ta­tions time after time.

So the big ques­tion: What does being “always on” entail? In our ses­sion, Sai and I touched on the three crit­i­cal steps to imple­ment­ing this 24/7 opti­miza­tion and personalization.

Be rel­e­vant: Your cus­tomers aren’t cap­tive audiences

Your cus­tomers aren’t sit­ting back wait­ing for you to win them over. You’ve got a mil­lisec­ond. At this point in the process it’s about ini­tial, sus­tained engage­ment, action­able con­ver­sion, and ongo­ing cus­tomer loy­alty. Get them in, get them inter­ested, get them to act, then get them com­ing back for more. And that comes from being rel­e­vant to each con­sumer from go.

Ask your­self “where’s the money?”—then be there

It seems obvi­ous enough, but far too many orga­ni­za­tions com­pletely miss the mark. Deter­mine what your money pages are—where con­sumers are enter­ing from, what’s pulling them in, and what spots seem to drive them through the pur­chase funnel—then get there and get optimizing.

It’s not as cut and dry as you might think, though. In the past, the money page was almost always the home­page; now, for many web­sites, large-scale traf­fic is com­ing in through a side door or two, be it a story page, prod­uct page, or spe­cific chan­nel. What’s more, with 28 per­cent of site traf­fic com­ing from mobile devices, the value of the side entries can’t be glossed over when think­ing about your money pages.

Once you’ve iden­ti­fied it, the real opti­miza­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion work can begin. Think of it as your site’s low­est hang­ing fruit. It’s already dri­ving a good por­tion of your engage­ment and con­ver­sion, and now it’s time to make it work even harder.

Con­stantly adapt and scale: Respond with con­tent experiences

Money pages are opti­mized, con­tent and con­text are aligned, and now it’s time to test, rede­fine, and refine efforts on an ongo­ing and iter­a­tive basis. Then auto­mate, per­son­al­ize, and opti­mize against the strate­gic rev­enue goals you’ve set forth.

Automa­tion is key here. With so many unique needs, deci­sions, and move­ments that some­times buck the norm, automa­tion is the only way to achieve the level of per­son­al­iza­tion and rel­e­vance that’s needed to be “always on.” Mar­keters, it’s time to chan­nel that tacit and learned knowl­edge into a strong, real-time automa­tion ini­tia­tive that can keep up with the go, go, go pace and turn-on-a-dime move­ments your cus­tomers are bring­ing to your site right now. It’s the last mil­lisec­ond at work again, and it requires all the parts to come together just so, in a way only automa­tion can deliver.

Our Case Study: Sears

From this overview, we moved into a real-world exam­ple, the impli­ca­tions for Sears, pre­sented by Divi­sional Vice Pres­i­dent of Cus­tomer Ana­lyt­ics and Opti­miza­tion and long­time Adobe part­ner, Sai Kop­paka. Sears car­ries a mas­sive range of prod­ucts, with upward of 30 depart­ments in a given store. The cat­a­log and store approach is to show all offers for all depart­ments, with the best offers get­ting the hero shelf spots and print place­ments. But if you’re a cus­tomer, find­ing a rel­e­vant offer can be a challenge.

So what about Sears​.com? The site, at first pass, seems to bor­row a page from the print/in-store play­book, with a focused home­page high­light­ing one depart­ment. It rotates every few days, but doesn’t deliver much rel­e­vance to cus­tomers inter­ested in another depart­ment. A tread­mill is great if I’m in the mar­ket for work­out equip­ment, but if I came for sweaters or power tools, it doesn’t do me much good, amaz­ing offer or not.

With 60 mil­lion online cus­tomers, curat­ing con­tent seemed impos­si­ble. Thanks to heavy man­power and marketer-driven per­son­al­iza­tion, about 10 per­cent of Sears online shop­pers got well-aligned con­tent while shop­ping. The rest got treadmills—or what­ever the tread­mill became the next day or the day after that.

Sears, how­ever, had some incred­i­bly impor­tant data points on its shop­pers, includ­ing what they’re look­ing for—past and present—as well as life stages. With those met­rics in their back pocket, Sears set out to deliver more rel­e­vant con­tent and offers, while build­ing a feed­back loop designed to con­stantly test, learn, and opti­mize. This per­son­al­iza­tion frame­work would con­tin­u­ously lever­age known data about shop­pers to keep the cycle alive, dri­ving greater engage­ment, con­ver­sion, and loyalty.

The data, for Sears, came from everywhere—so this shouldn’t be intim­i­dat­ing to small busi­nesses and launches out there. You have a num­ber of vari­ables at your fin­ger­tips, includ­ing envi­ron­men­tal ones like IP address, coun­try of ori­gin, time zone, device, and OS. You’ve got past and real-time site behav­iors like whether a con­sumer is new or return­ing, what they’re search­ing for, and pur­chase his­tory. And you’ve got some tem­po­ral and refer­rer vari­ables to throw in the mix, too. So nix that from the list of rea­sons not to per­son­al­ize. At the very least you can offer the New Yorker a deal on snow boots when the tem­per­a­ture drops.

But back to Sears. Once these met­rics were iden­ti­fied and aligned, the com­pany looked to its mar­ket­ing man­power. Again, a hat-tip to automa­tion. Why should a pow­er­house like Sears waste time, mar­ket­ing tal­ent, and money argu­ing about what goes where, when? When Sears ulti­mately rolled out its per­son­al­iza­tion plan, the mar­keter had an impor­tant spot at the table—performing high-value con­tent and offer creation—while low-value work took a back seat. Data would now dic­tate which con­tent and offers were best for cus­tomers, and, through con­tent deliv­ery, test­ing, and ana­lyt­ics, Sears​.com would push per­son­al­ized home­pages dri­ven by real-time rules engines.   

With these fun­da­men­tal shifts, Sears​.com increased its rel­e­vance deliv­ery, serv­ing more on-par con­tent with greater con­text most of the time. From here, Sears has an eye on cross-platform inte­gra­tion and the value that lies in their mas­sive Big Data stores to gain even more value from this ini­tia­tive. That’s Sears’ part three—the com­pany is con­stantly adapt­ing. And Adobe is help­ing to make life eas­ier on all fronts, with solu­tions that have helped put the cus­tomer in con­trol, drive higher con­ver­sions, and keep the mar­keters focused on actions that yield greater value.

Sears knocked it out of the park, but vir­tu­ally any orga­ni­za­tion can attain a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence. Adobe solu­tions can help, as can start­ing the test­ing and opti­miza­tion process now. And, remem­ber, as you ramp up, be rel­e­vant, keep an eye on those money pages and ways you can make them work harder, and con­stantly adapt. Lis­ten to your data, respond with con­tent expe­ri­ences, and, above all else, always be on—because, after all, you’ve only got a millisecond.