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Where are you on the Journey to Real-Time Personalization?

We’re well past the point of personalized consumer experiences simply being “nice to have.” Consumers don’t just want personalized experiences — they expect them. And brands are incentivized to deliver on those expectations: According to McKinsey, businesses that are proficient in personalization boost their revenue by 5% to 15% and their marketing-spend efficiency by 10% to 30%, yet only 15% of CMOs think they’re on target to deliver personalized experiences.

In fact, most brands aren’t able to produce highly personalized consumer experiences at scale. They have tons of data at their disposal, but marketing teams struggle to make sense of it all. If your team is poring over data to create audience segments, you might end up with 10 to 20 of them. But in reality, you need thousands of audience segments to fully create relevant and meaningful digital consumer experiences.

Relying solely on historical data is another obstacle on the road toward digital personalization at scale. The idea that a consumer’s past behavior will inform their future actions can be applicable when you’ve identified a pattern, but when you don’t consider the contextual elements of the consumer’s environment, you fail to see how their needs might change.

The ability to adapt to a consumer’s changing preferences in real time is what makes personalization so powerful. So what does getting real-time personalization “right” look like in practice? And how can your brand accelerate its journey toward digital personalization at scale?

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The Journey to Real-Time Personalization

Personalization isn’t a task or a singular objective — it’s a business process. It’s helpful to think of the path to personalization in three stages, each with its own purpose and function that contributes to the larger goal of curating dynamic, personalized experiences for consumers. Not sure where you are in your journey toward enabling digital personalization at scale? Here’s a rundown of the intricacies of each stage:

Stage 1: Collect data and produce actionable consumer insights.

The personalization journey begins with data collection. Your data holds the insights you need to create personalized consumer experiences, but the success of those efforts depends on the data you have at your disposal. If you’re not collecting the right data or aren’t quite sure how to use your data, then the consumer insights you produce might not be clear or actionable, impacting the rest of your personalization journey.

If you’re not sure where to start or you’re still using very basic tools, it’s hard to get into optimizing the consumer journey and enabling personalization. You might face other challenges in this stage as well, such as ensuring privacy in data collection and deciding whether to build personalization capabilities in-house or work with a vendor.

The first step toward moving beyond this stage is optimizing your data collection and analysis practices so that you can extract actionable consumer insights from the information you’re gathering. Think through why you’re collecting the data, what purpose it serves, where it’s stored and how you intend to use it. Break down data silos and leverage artificial intelligence-powered tools to conduct large-scale data analysis quickly. When you leverage AI, you can focus on the bigger picture, using these insights to optimize the consumer experience.

Stage 2: Optimize the consumer journey with simple personalization.

You know what the ideal consumer experience should be, but you might not be sure how exactly to get there. This stage of the personalization journey is centered around using consumer insights to improve the digital consumer experience. At this point, simple is best — the goal should be to quickly implement personalization features that will produce returns right away.

For example, let’s say your data shows that most consumers view the “Find a Retailer Near You” page on your website, but leave the site before entering their ZIP code and locating a store. If your website auto-populates the ZIP code field, then consumers can get the information they’re looking for with minimal effort.

If your personalization process is still largely manual at this stage, your team will find it difficult to move forward with things such as dynamic audience segmentation or large-scale predictive personalization. Before you advance to the next stage, look at the data you’re using and how quickly you’re using it. You want to leveragereal-time personalization to create digital consumer experiences that can adapt to changing consumer preferences rapidly, providing the most relevant experience possible.

Plenty of marketers run into issues that keep them from moving beyond this stage. They might have tools at their disposal, but those tools might not be producing the desired results or might require too much manual input and support from engineers. With this, they’re not yet able to provide value to consumers.

Consider this example: Your data collection practices are producing actionable consumer insights, and you’ve enabled some simple personalization features on your website. However, you’re struggling to make the leap to real-time dynamic content. That’s an indicator that you’re between the second and third stages of the personalization journey and should focus on enabling fully dynamic and personalized experiences for your consumers across multiple channels.

Stage 3: Enable fully predictive and dynamic personalized experiences.

This is the final stage of the personalization journey; it’s characterized by fully automated real-time personalization and dynamic audience segmentation happening at scale. At this point, real-time dynamic content is a requirement, and you should be looking for ways to extend that into new channels (such as SMS and email). It’s at this point that you might consider using dynamic templates for email and serving different website banner ads to different types of visitors (e.g., registered users versus first-time visitors).

Tying personalization efforts to business objectives and goals is important in every stage, but it’s especially critical during stage three. Getting it right means knowing what you’re trying to accomplish with your real-time personalization and fully understanding the technical pieces required to get there. Improving engagement rates, for example, requires a different approach than increasing conversions, just as boosting sales requires a different approach than driving CRM registrations.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of personalization in marketing. We’re rapidly approaching a point where consumers simply refuse to do business with brands that don’t provide personalized consumer experiences. Assess where your brand is on this journey to real-time personalization, and don’t worry if you don’t have everything figured out just yet — it’s a fluid process. As long as you understand the steps to get there, you’re on the right path toward providing relevant and meaningful digital experiences for your consumers.


Diane Keng is the CEO and Co-founder of Breinify, an AI and predictive personalization engine that helps brands curate dynamic, meaningful experiences for their consumers at scale. Keng is on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for enterprise technology and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, TechCrunch, OZY and Inc. Magazine. Keng ran three successful businesses before she was 18 and is a noted software innovator who frequently speaks on the intersection of AI, personal data, privacy and the future of smarter products. Breinify works with retailers and consumer packaged goods brands to enable data science in marketing campaigns that secure 51% year-over-year online sales, 20 times the click rate and six times the reaction rate.

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