In a world where a big part of the Earth’s population changed their shopping behavior to online-only pretty much overnight, well-prepared brands with strong digital footprints were the true winners of this surge in volume of new customers. But since everyone is welcome to this online party, many companies have had to invest (and are still investing) massive resources to make their products available online in order to compete digitally.

Fortunately for consumers, this trend means more choice and better prices. For the brands that want to win the consumers’ hearts and build long-term loyalty, the only way to do so is by getting to know your customers, by being able to treat them differently, and by doing it better than the competition — online. This is called personalization.

I believe there are still a lot of misconceptions about what is and isn’t personalization, and on the back of being named a leader in the Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant for Personalization Engines report, I want to clearly define what personalization is, and what you, the marketer, should look for beyond the buzzwords.

Yes, we’re a leader in this report, and yes, I am very proud and honored to be there, but this post isn’t a victory lap; this is purely educational. So let’s start.

Data Richness

When it comes to data for personalization, it isn’t about first name, last name, your city, or even being able to identify your customer on the website or in the app in real time. Being data rich is pointless if you do not understand what data is relevant and how to use it correctly (especially while complying with privacy regulations and being mindful of data ethics).

Once you know what data is relevant, you then need to know how to make the most of it, e.g., by focusing on predicted engagement as opposed to last website visit, LTV prediction vs. last basket amount… the list goes on. Knowing what data you should use and how you should use it is the best way to get the clearest possible view of your customer, and from there, you can engage with them.

Takeaway: Apply the right data at the right time.

Technological Potential

Forget about SQL queries or anything that will require your IT team to come and set up for you — for a marketer, personalization needs to be achievable. You’re mostly working from home, and you need to be self-sufficient in using and activating hyper-personalization without delay. It should be quick, efficient, and ready to go for every user — which is especially important if you need to pivot your campaign or retool your content on the fly.

Usability should be built into the software and not dependent on long implementations requiring people’s time and effort and other valuable resources. You shouldn’t have to compromise here, because a bad user experience (UX) for the marketer rarely becomes an amazingly personalized experience for the consumer.

Takeaway: A good UX for the marketer keeps execution agile and quality high.

Channel-Centric Personalization

The main challenge that marketers come up against is that personalization is often built into specific channels: email, website, app, etc. I have bad news for you: your customers do not care about which channels you’re operating in, but your interactions do have to be consistent, relevant, and engaging in real time across all your channels.

Consumers see your brand as a single entity, so regardless of the channel they interact on, the expectation is that you’re connecting the dots as the engagements happen. You need to think consumer-centric rather than channel-centric here and make sure that you have the kind of tech that can connect all the dots for you.

Takeaway: Customer-centric = a continuous brand experience.

Knowing vs. Testing

Often the way a brand achieves personalization is by relying on A/B testing, but ask yourself this: How is it personalized if your customer receives the same winning version that everyone else does? Yes, the most successful test version is better than a generic interaction, but since your customer has already okayed the collection and use of their data, you already know your customer.

If the customer has given you the green light, you need to use the data in the right way (this goes back to the earlier point about data relevance). Don’t just test and move on, instead you should look at the previous data patterns to predict and execute the next personalized interaction based on what you know instead of relying on guesswork.

Takeaway: Use what you know about the individual for engagement. 

Is That It?

It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. Well, it is, but that’s the reason we have software. Breaking through all the complexity should be handled behind the scenes, letting you focus on delivering a seamless customer experience.

Personalization should lead to higher customer satisfaction, which then turns into repeat purchases, and that ultimately translates into higher profitability and growth for your business. All of these things also need to be measurable and provided on an ongoing basis to make sure that you’re heading in the right direction.

Final takeaway: Remember, personalization is a means to an end and not the end itself.

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