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Personalization strategy 101: A crawl, walk, run approach

In 2017, Gartner found that within two years, 81% of marketing leaders expected to be competing mostly or completely on the basis of customer experience.

Now we’ve reached those two years, and most marketers understand that data-driven, personalized communication with customers across devices is indeed a dealmaker or dealbreaker for many of today’s consumers. 

However, understanding that personalization strategy is a priority, and successfully personalizing each interaction with customers are two very different things. 

In fact, a 2019 customer experience trends survey found that two-thirds of customers could not recall when a brand last exceeded their expectations. Yet, that same survey found that 87% of marketers think they are delivering engaging customer experiences. Clearly, there’s a disconnect when it comes to marketing’s ability to deliver what consumers expect.

Content produced in collaboration with Acquia.

What will it take to close this gap in customer experience?

There are signs of progress — Gartner’s CMO Spend Survey 2018-19 found that customer experience initiatives would be allocated 18% of overall marketing budgets (compared to 21% on advertising) — but still, consumers’ lofty expectations are quite hard to match. And no matter how much budget marketing throws at the problem, that doesn’t necessarily equate to consumers’ perceiving improvement.

Most marketers are dealing with vast and disparate sets of data, legacy platforms, and numerous point solutions. And more technology hasn’t always meant more answers. Rather, 74% of marketers feel that technology has made it harder, not easier, to deliver personalized experiences.

Many businesses launch personalization efforts without having a full, data-based picture of who their buyers are — and then they don’t understand why their personalization efforts aren’t getting results. Often, the problem for marketers lies in lack of strategy: knowing where and how to start, and growing from there. 

Personalization strategy into a three part crawl-walk-run approach

1. Learning to crawl

Getting started with customer data means beginning to build a complete and accurate view of exactly who your customers are — a feat that most marketers are still struggling with. A study by VB Insights found that 80% of marketers don’t understand customers beyond basic data. And nearly all of those surveyed (96%) said they faced challenges when building a single view of a customer. 

These challenges could be the result of the fact that many businesses are trying to walk (or run) before they can crawl when it comes to data and personalization. 

Learning to “crawl” means starting with some basic data and generating small, personalized interactions using that data. Understanding characteristics like geolocation, device type, operating system, and new versus returning visitors are critical components to building a 360-degree customer profile. 

Some examples of crawl personalization include understanding which pieces of content perform better on mobile, offering up location-based homepages, and generating personalized homepages for users who click through from an email. 

At the crawl stage of personalization, it’s also important to start thinking about which martech tools can best help your company gain a 360-degree view of your customer. There are thousands of martech tools on the market, so knowing exactly which information you’re trying to gain about your customers is essential for helping choose the right tool for your business. 

2. Starting to walk

All too often, we’re collecting data hoping to solve very specific problems. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more clicks and page views or better leads. But collecting customer data with an eye towards personalization should be about discovering what the data can teach us, rather than how we can manipulate the data as a means to very specific ends. 

Instead, allow the data you are collecting, profiles you are building, and segments you are creating to teach you things about your visitors and your business. 

Companies entering the “walk” phase of personalization are starting to use their data not just to build a complete picture of their customers, but to start creating experiences based on the lessons that data has taught. For example, a fashion brand may use location-based personalization to showcase coats to buyers in New Jersey while still promoting bathing suits in California. 

Personalization could also mean delivering newsletter sign up promotion to a first-time visitor to capture their email or directing them to download an app for a different user experience. The walk stage is all about segmenting your user base into much more specific groups which you can continually target and test content against.

3. Running with it

As your business transitions from the “walk” to “run” stages of personalization, you’ll probably have an inherent understanding and visibility into your audience’s implicit preferences like content, experiences and so on, resulting in a completed action. Keep in mind that your goal is to use your technology to not only move your customers along the funnel, but also to deliver great experiences every step of the way.

Businesses that are ready to run in terms of personalization have used their data to segment audiences and copiously test content so that they have a complete picture of the buyer journey from awareness and consideration to conversion, growth, and advocacy. At each of these touchpoints, both online and offline, brands have an opportunity to reach customers with data-driven, personalized experiences that increase their engagement and their loyalty. 

Businesses that are running with their data and personalization have unified their martech and adtech touchpoints, consolidated customer data for one-to-one or one-to-few engagement, and are using those tools to automatically trigger the right content for the right customer at the right time. 

To learn more about how you can crawl, walk, and ultimately run towards greater personalization, download Acquia’s white paper “The State of Personalization Today (And what we are doing to fix it).

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