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Web Personalization – start now, not later!

 

For me Web Personalization is all about serving the right content to the right person at the right time.

In the report “To Succeed With Web Content Personalization, Start Failing now” from November 2008 by Tim Walters, PH.d and Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, Web personalization is defined as:

“Creating experiences on Web sites or through interactive media that are unique to individuals or segments of consumers.”

It is something that every marketer with an interest in online communication wants to achieve. We have many tools at our disposal with social media and Web communication in general, but one of the pieces that I think has been underutilized online is personalization and adaptation. The ability to personalize and adapt a Web site in real time based on visitor demographics is a major piece in the puzzle of delivering the engaged Web. But somewhere along the road, we got stuck with the work that it takes to maintain the Web site and not looked beyond. Maybe that’s why I have not seen that many examples of more advanced personalization in a B2B setting? We run it on EPiServer.com. Started small, but the results are good and I plan to expand the usage.

If you want to think about it in a simple way and using “old-world” marketing thinking, it is like using Direct & Targeted Marketing. When selecting your target audience and the message, you strive to make the target audience as narrow as possible and ensure that the message answers to the needs of the target audience so that they will act and respond. Otherwise you are wasting your time and money. When it comes to Web communication, we solve that through design, navigation and personas. But what if you could add another element and actually choose your top five customer or prospect segments and show information that is specifically targeted to them? The results should show higher conversion rates and improved service to the customer, let me know if you disagree, but what’s really stopping us from using it?

The report from 2003 by Jupiter Research called   “The Myth of Personalization research” states that it is four times as expensive to maintain a personalized Web site as operating a comparable dynamic site. It must have been because at the time when the research was done, not many user cases existed and maintaining personalization mainly required manual input. I would strongly argue that this is simply not the case today. 

With the cost not being the barrier, what else is stopping marketers from putting this into practice? Inadequate customer data is the key obstacle facing top marketing executives in their adoption of personalized communication techniques, according to findings from "The Power of Personalization" global survey, issued by the CMO Council in 2008.  I think this reason is closer to the main cause for the limited use.

Most companies segment their customer groups and target audiences based on demographics into just a few segments. Five to seven seems to be a going rate for many market organizations, which is pretty much what you can grasp and support. And if you know those five to seven, then start with them. Don’t make it too complex in the beginning.

Here is a quick guide into the steps you need to take to get started:

1) Decide where on Web site the campaign information or adapted content should be displayed. Since a major hurdle is that it is perceived as complicated, then start small. Like me, you probably have areas on your site that are drop out pages that you want to improve. You know who is leaving and why. Adapt the information to make it more sticky.

2) Choose demographics that are common for the target audience. Start small.
Stick to your usual way in segmenting your audience and use it on your Web site. Is it country, industry, company size, location or another variable? Anything is possible, but if you are new to personalization, start with just a few variables.

3) Decide what to adapt and don’t overdo it.
There are no limits, but to succeed, you need to have some realistic limitations. You can adapt a banner ad, interactive media, text of any kind or a whole page. Maybe you want to show completely different landing pages depending on where the visitor is located? At a country or zip code level? For example you could adapt the campaign image on the first page to ensure that you show the banner ad for a new product to a buyer from a large retailer in the US, while you show the latest film about new ways of improve mining to the visitor from a mining company in South Africa.

4) Set your goals and how you should measure up front.
Is it conversion rates or can you go further and measure the actual revenue increase? This is where I think you should spend the most time and ensure that you establish clear visibility into the effect it has on your business. As an high-level example, I have goals for how many new customers and partners that we should generate from episerver.com, how much each of those contacts is worth for us and a percentage goal of how much of our revenues we can attribute from this.

5) Think Agile.
Create a project that can be up and running quickly. By keeping the segments and content that you personalize to a realistic level, the time for go-to-market will be quick.

6) Adapt, adapt and adapt.
Establish what works, improve that and abandon the rest.

7) Involve the rest of the organization.
Make sure that you can feed your sales or customer support team with the leads that you generate. Don’t just let it all go to waste in a Web stats report. Also consider if you can feed this information directly into your CRM solution and integrate with your sales process.

It also raises other questions such as can it be obtrusive to the visitor? Well, quite honestly, the visitor will not notice that it has happened. They will just be served content that you as a marketer and site owner think is more relevant to them.  But that’s a question that we will look more into.

Sep 04, 2009

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