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Have you been retargeted recently with a product advertisement that was perfect for you, so much so you purchased it? Did it leave you thinking ‘Well played marketer, you nailed that?’ Well that marketer is achieving something that every business is striving for right now - capturing you in the right moment in your user journey, with the right product and the perfect experience. And this is only the beginning...

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Personalizing Digital Experiences For Customer Loyalty

More and more users are looking for tailored experiences when they interact with brands online. They want your product to jump out amongst all the noise and give them what they want, right when they want it. The main problem is that designing this personalisation is hard. If you think about how unique each individual person is and how unique each journey through the web can be, personalisation becomes a very daunting prospect.

Even though this concept is very much in its infancy and only a handful of brands are truly mastering personalization across all their different touch points it also brings great new opportunities that allows businesses to increase conversions and revenue online. This article looks into the concept of personalisation and how you can work with the multiple tools and channels to test, learn, stay ahead of the trends and ultimately delight your customer so much, they keep coming back again and again.

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What is Personalisation?

Personalisation means to offer your users a more tailored experience across multiple channels and devices. Data is key component in the development of a personalisation strategy and often businesses build user profiles that encompass user behaviour based on this data. These user profiles can be used to create a set of personas that loosely represent the top types of consumers and become the focus for a personalised nurture funnel for all users that behave in certain ways.

In other words, businesses try to break down the behavior, expectations and needs of their customers into a few personas and modify the experience around them.

The next step would be to define the user journeys as well as the nurture funnel that these personas would run through. This means, how do they interact with your brand and how do they buy your products - step-by-step.

This exercise will usually span over many different digital assets from modern dynamic advertisements to more traditional forms of advertising, tools and services you provide. It is also wise to provide cross-device experiences that follow users from their laptop, to their tablet, to their smartphone, to your store etc..

It is clear that designing content and user journeys for personalization bears additional effort as each possible scenario and variable needs to be considered in order to achieve the optimal results.

The key goals of personalization is to make the user feel like you know them, you understand them, you can predict their wants and needs and you are there for them during this time.

Why is personalisation important?

Users enjoy the feeling of being treated differently from everyone else. They like to feel special. Millennials, and the centennials behind them, are growing to expect personalisation especially if they are to trust a brand. This requires brands to raise the bar as customers expect to be guided through the user journey based on their current needs. Whether or not you think you have enough content and data right now to build a successful personalisation strategy for your users, it needs to be a strategy you try to keep up with if you are to remain competitive in the future. So where to start?

The Current State of Personalisation

As mentioned, personalisation is very much in its infancy in the digital world, however, there are some bold examples where brands have been successful with their tailored initiatives.

Within the current landscape, experimentation with personalisation is happening often via advertising strategies - Remember the first time you shopped online only to see the exact product you were just browsing pop up in your Facebook news feed the next day?

Dynamic retargeting tools that enable brands to show online shoppers the most recent product they viewed has typically driven 2 x ROI - a huge opportunity for all types of brands.

However, as personalisation tools become more and more sophisticated, new opportunities surface all the time. Many brands are now taking personalization on to their own properties including websites, apps, stores and digital communication.

Example Scenario of a Personalized User Experience

To understand this concept better, let’s imagine how an airline could improve a customer journey using personalisation tools:

Firstly, the airline can use anonymous user data in order to create a personalized experience on their website. Therefore they can change content for users in a specific city or country and show offers that would most likely appeal to them based on seasonality. Advanced personalization engines can further analyze the user's behavior in real-time based on how they navigate the site. Past search keywords and browsing behavior can be considered too and by analyzing users the engine can predict the persona of the user and try to present them with a personalized experience that will eventually lead to a higher conversion rate.

If personalization can tap into real user profiles, for example logged in users, the level of customization can be enhanced drastically. For example they could notify the customer via email of some deals they have on flights the user may be interested in based on the user’s previously viewed or visited destinations, along with a ‘If you liked Prague, you may also enjoy Berlin’ suggestions.

The airline can then retarget users with an ad on Facebook or other advertising networks by showing the stunning scenery in the destinations on their custom list. They can then serve them an ad with a link to an article about their desired destination or a special offer.

But personalization doesn’t have to stop here. Once the user booked their trip and the date of the holiday comes closer, the airline can offer car rentals in return for points, hotels and airport transfers. A way to add further value is via “Top 10” articles covering things to do in their chosen destination, best restaurants, information on reservations for local attractions and local tips and recommendations. Knowing that most of the interactions with the airline will be on mobile during this time, the airline ensures that their landing pages are all optimized for mobile with a fast load time and easy to press buttons.

On the week of travel, the airline can notify the passenger of their in-flight service, fast-trak services, upgrade opportunities, check in details and so on. When the time to check in arrives, the airline send the user a notification on their phone via their app and makes them check in with no more than a 3 step process. Users can access their boarding passes on their phone and receive regularly updated information on their flight, such as delays, so they can make educated decisions about when to leave later for the airport.

Of course all this is no longer fiction, but happening every day.

Designing for Personalisation

It might be more straightforward than you think to develop personalised experiences for your users. Here are some places to start when building out a personalization program.

Retrieve existing historical data: First you should spend time pulling and analysing historical data on your users and look for trends. These trends will be used to create your user personas.

Most of this information we will suggest can be found in Google Analytics however there are many other tools that can be used to get data on your existing users. The goal is to understanding how to connect the dots so that you can create a unique user experience across all channels that efficiently guides your user towards a common goal that feels tailored to them.

Here are some examples:

  • Keywords: What keywords did your users type into the organic search engines to find you?
  • Channels: Which channels drive the most traffic to your site and which content drives this traffic?
  • Device: What device do your users use to visit you? In addition to this information, dig a little deeper and look at what types of devices - for example, do your users typically use Apple or Android smartphones? Are the coming from Chrome or Firefox? Does the conversion rate vary much between each of these elements?
  • Referrals: What types of referrals drive traffic to your website and which are converting the most?
  • Behaviour: Is there a particular time of day or day of the week that drives more quality traffic? Where, geographically, are these users coming from? How many times do they visit your website?
  • History: Do you have any data on their browsing history? Can you view their purchasing history?

Create personas based on your data: Once you feel confident that you have spotted trends within your data, you can begin to assign this to various user personas. You can approach this is several ways. You can model your personas around different stages of the user funnel - top, middle or bottom.

Or you can base on on different geographical areas. Or on genders. Ideally, this will be aligned with your business and its goals. Here is a great article on how to create personas for you to start. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-2/

Create user journeys: Once you have between 3 and 6 personas outlined, it is time to map out user journeys for each of these personas. However, it is important to understand that journeys are not necessarily depend on a specific persona and may apply to multiple personas or at least appear to be very similar.

However, the main goal of this exercise is to find these commonalities and later change the experience slightly for each persona. For example imagine the shopping experience on Amazon.com. The checkout process is the same for all users (which is not entirely true, but we will just assume this for now), but the journey before and after a purchase may change based on the persona. I.e. Woman that shop the latest fashion trends will get different content and experiences than a gadget nerd would get.

To make all this more scalable, companies currently assign a predefined journey towards certain personas to try and offer a personalised experience to a percentage of visitors. This journey is typically informed by data and matches the most typical journey taken by the top percent of users.

Create Valuable Content for each Persona Along the Journey: This is the most important part as content can come in many forms. It can be in the form of a display advertisement with a specific call to action, it can be a Facebook video, a white paper, recommendations or even changes in the user experience itself. Whatever it is, it needs to act as a link in the journey and it needs to be tested and backed up with data.

Measuring Success:
One important aspect of designing for personalization is the ability to measure it’s success. In order to accomplish this we can look at each step of the process and look at the performance increase we get at each personalized node. This will help us to to determine if our personalization works.

Content Performance
When we personalize content for each one of our personas we need to be able to measure which content works best in order to verify our personalization has a positive impact in the first place. One way to do this would be to have neutral state that would work for all scenarios and then a more tailored piece of content that we can test against. Imagine again our example of the airline, we could have one offer that says “book your holiday now” and an alternative version that reads “book your Prague holiday now” that we show to all users that have shown an interest in Prague before. If our personalization works we should get a higher conversion for the second message.

The challenge however starts if we have more than two options to analyse since we could have hundreds of keyword enriched content pieces and many persona based variants of the same content. Therefore it is important to understand that we cannot simply compare one variant to another, but we need to include factors such as traffic and value. For example if you have one personalized option that targets company executives your traffic on that personalization may be low, but the ROI much higher if they book a business class flight.

Journey performance
As mentioned in our Amazon example the user journey should also be tested and may have to be personalized for each persona. The checkout process for existing customer Bob will be different than new customer Jane and so forth. It is important though not to change a global experience based on the data collected from just one of the personas, as this would lead to override global journeys.

Technology to Enable Personalization
While all this may sound rather complex to setup there are already some great tools available that enable companies to set up their own personalization programs easily. One of them is Progress Sitefinity and its Digital Experience Cloud The tool allows you to personalize both content and user journeys based on the data you collect from your users.

It also helps you to analyse the user journey and different touch points around your site and can be a good way to start your personalization program.

Personalisation, without a doubt, is an integral part of the future of any digital strategy and keeping up with the concepts and the tools involved in personalisation are important to any business interesting in staying competitive. We will continue to bring you updated information on trends in personalisation over on our blog - follow us here.

What are your experiences with personalisation so far?

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