Digital marketing has continued to explode with capabilities that allow marketers to get ever closer to the pinnacle of one-to-one marketing communications. The technology landscape to enable these new capabilities has matched lockstep and in fact has in many cases been the enabler of the new capabilities. One look at Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic shows just how much that landscape has evolved in the last five years, from a few hundred to well over 3,000 vendors. Marketers have been quick to gobble up these new technologies, adding them into their available bag of tactics to help coerce prospects to convert to leads or purchases. However, despite being one of the most promising capabilities in a B2B marketers tool bag, personalization has a relatively slow adoption rate compared to other capabilities. But, why?

The power of personalization
Most marketers have already heard the stats on how powerful personalization can be, with companies seeing upwards of 20% increases in conversion rates when personalization is done correctly. Yet many organizations struggle with implementing personalization in any meaningful way. When most people think about personalization they probably default to their own experiences in online shopping. The most obvious example of personalization in online shopping that most people have experienced is Amazon’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section where products are displayed based on similar buying behaviors of other shoppers. In fact, if you’re like most people you have likely bought something based on seeing products in that section. That’s the power of personalization at a microscale, at the individual buying power level, but now take that same personalization and apply it to enterprise purchasing decisions and the impact of personalization on a firm’s top line revenue can be dramatic.

The problem with personalization
So if personalization can be so powerful, we get back to the question of why companies are struggling to employ it. Unlike many other marketing tactics, like A/B testing for example, personalization requires a rather large initial investment in really understanding your customers. This means not only who they are demographically, but also what their motivations are, what their decision criteria are around your product or service, and what their information consumption habits look like throughout the buying cycle. You might also know these things by other names like personas and customer journeys. In addition to knowing more about your customer and their purchasing decision, you also have the challenge of understanding where all of the data about your prospects and customers are stored. If your marketing stack has evolved in the last five years similar to what I described above, then that data may exist in several different data silos. You may own a CRM, marketing automation tool, CMS or a number of other third-party systems, all of which you may need to ultimately integrate with. Figuring out all of these data points is not an easy task and it requires a fairly hefty investment in either time or money to pull this information together in a cohesive way. However, this information is critical to the success of your personalization strategy, and this is also the single largest roadblock to getting to web personalization. Many organizations often times don’t know where to start this journey. Through my experience – the best investment you can make is having a third-party drive a series of workshops across the organization to help define this is a unified manner. This exercise will ensure you are starting right.

Varying degrees of personalization
Outside of ensuring you have invested the appropriate time to define your customer and gain universal agreement, the second critical step is to understand what type of personalization you are looking to drive. Not all personalization is created equal, we should separate out two types of personalization that you can employ. To keep it simple, I’ll refer to them as explicit personalization and behavioral personalization. Explicit personalization is adapting the content, interface or experience based on known facts or attributes about the visitor. These facts could be geography, company they work for, job role, title, or anything that could be stored as an attribute about that person. Whereas behavioral personalization is the ability to change the experience based on what that person is doing either historically or in real-time. Behavioral personalization would include things like which campaign they are responding to, what pages are they visiting, what PDFs have they downloaded and what emails they have responded to, just to name a few. Explicit personalization tends to be the easiest to implement as you most likely already have some of these data points already available either in your xDB database (for Sitecore users) or possibly in your CRM or marketing automation tool. Behavioral personalization, however, requires much more involvement in knowing your customer, their motivations and their habits. These differences are key to establishing a crawl, walk, run approach to your personalization efforts and also why personalization can be so difficult to implement.

If you want to be successful at, then you have to be willing to make that first investment in time and resources to have the right information to get started on your journey. In my next post I’ll get into some of the details on the steps to get you going on your journey, until then get to know your customers and how they behave on your website and we’ll use that information to really get personal.