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.