We on the Adobe Target team have talked a lot about automated personalization recently. My colleague Dr. Jonas Dahl just wrapped up an excellent series that covered everything from how models utilize visitor data to seven steps for getting started—definitely worth a read. It’s exciting stuff, but many marketers are still asking the million-dollar question: what does this mean for my business and me? There are probably countless answers to the question, but I’ve got the simplest and possibly the most compelling one: automated personalization has the potential to have an incomparable and powerful leveling effect on your business. I’ve seen it first hand, and it’s something every marketer and consumer should find compelling.
Let’s take a step back and look at what we know today. Most companies engaged in any kind of commerce are organized by department or business unit—think home and garden or mortgages, for example—each competing for wallet share. Retailers manifest this by organizing their stores this way, and indeed it’s successful and probably necessary in a physical construct (clearly, an in-store associate couldn’t cover all 250,000-square feet of a department store, nor could it be reconfigured around each customer’s unique needs). Out of similar necessity, printed catalogs or circulars have followed suit—which department gets the coveted front cover is the only wild card! So for the most part, the customer experience has been determined by the organization needs of the business. Makes sense, right?
Although this clearly works within the brick-and-mortar space, this organizational tactic wasn’t meant to migrate to digital. But it has, and that’s a problem. Within the digital landscape, we aren’t—and shouldn’t be—talking about eyeballs like we talk about foot traffic at a big box store. The conversation should be about delivering real-time relevance for consumers. And when you talk about this experience delivery, you shouldn’t be talking about your own agenda, those of competing departments/merchant groups, or that of the brand for that matter.
Let’s say a brand sells snow blowers and their snow blower marketing department has the biggest budget within the company. Does that mean snow blowers should get all of the love? Should relevance be forced between consumers and snow blowers? What if the visitor is from Arizona? Not only won’t you sell him a snow blower, you’ll likely alienate him completely—this experience isn’t relevant so he leaves to find one somewhere else. What’s worse, maybe he was looking for something you also have—maybe gardening tools, and you’ve got them. Now the marketers for the gardening department have lost a sale, simply because their budgets weren’t big enough to beat out the snow blower promotions, or because priority wasn’t placed on their division.
Though a simple example, it’s fairly common. Companies’ digital experiences aren’t set up with the “whole house” in mind. Most are incredibly far away from this more leveled approach, if they’re interested in making the shift at all. So when a brand is up in Product X and down in Product Y, tactics are fairly clear cut—X produces more revenue than Y, so X gets more marketing exposure . . . and, likely, Y becomes less and less visible and, as a result, drives less and less engagement, conversion, and revenue. It’s a vicious, but understandable cycle.
The limitations of human marketers and their targeting rules
Many organizations use business rules to target content to visitors; some even “hard-code” experiences based on a few simple criteria such as past purchases—and many get great results. But these approaches generally mean making varying degrees of compromise. We make decisions to use our digital best to show content and offers based on data-backed assumptions, but not without a dose of built-in subjectivity or bias. Marketers are required to decide upfront what segments will experience, and effectively which line of business, department, or merchant group is going to benefit the most. Maybe it’s a launch or the group with the biggest budget. But what about the rest? And, more important, what about that valuable customer segment waiting in the wings, who isn’t being catered to?
Enter automated personalization.
Automated personalization has the power to do away with these business boundaries and, ultimately, serve up the right thing for that whole house, whether it’s the “hero” or not. Think of it as the democratization of digital experiences—everyone gets what they want, be it more specific content, targeted offers or, for the brand, the ability to connect with relevant consumers. Site visitors, effectively, “vote with their clicks” and, as a result, no one product line or merchant dominates the digital experience (unless, of course that’s what the customer wants!). And I’m not talking about targeting to the lowest common denominator; I mean taking advantage of the data representing millions of visits and interactions, and basing intelligent content decisions and predictions on that data. The result: we’re all winners—the consumers get the gardening tools, the gardening team gets the win, and the company gains a loyal customer.
Another way to think about it: automated personalization is a Big Data play. In her TED talk, data analyst Susan Etlinger makes a great case for rethinking how we look at the role of data in our lives. It’s not just about how much data is flying around, it’s also about the speed at which it’s moving, and the varieties of types that exist, from video and text to audio and images. And they all require context, which an individual marketer—or even a well-established team—can’t provide. But automated personalization—a machine marketing partner—can.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation, and it won’t be the last. All year I’ve touched on this topic in a variety of posts, from delivering 24/7 personalization and last millisecond targeting to the art of automated personalization with the marketer as the artist and, at the core, the power of Adobe Target Premium to create both the opportunity and the experience. It all comes down to letting the data do the work—in fueling the decisions and in activating the experiences—as well as our own strengths and limitations as human marketers. It’s less about Big Data and more about answers to big questions. This is where marketers need to concede that they might need a little help.
There are seemingly infinite benefits to integrating automated personalization into your digital marketing, but for my money it’s all about the leveling effect. With this “whole house” approach brands won’t just provide more exposure for products, services, and content that would have been otherwise, essentially, buried or deprioritized, but will also deliver those spot-on relevant experiences for consumers. No matter who’s the Goliath at your organization, everyone wins. What’s not to love?