Personalizing the User Experience: Types and Methods
POSTED : August 24, 2010

There’s a lot of talk these days about website personalization. Personalizing is not a new topic of course. Many of us remember the first generation of big (read: expensive) portal-driven personalization platforms (Vignette, Broadvision, ATG).

Or perhaps you have first-hand experience slicing and dicing email and Salesforce segments to send custom offers, insert merge fields in email, and provide custom-tailored content to your prospects in a lead nurturing program.

But even with all the technology at our disposal, if you’re like me, this process is often still done manually. Thankfully, content management systems (CMS) and other tools are finally maturing (in both cost and function) to the point where real-time content personalizing based on user behavior is becoming an affordable, accessible option.

A simple framework for effective personalization

We have all been up-sold, cross-sold, and un-sold online at one time or another. Product merchandising is second nature for online retailers, but the majority of organizations selling offline products or services have been slower to adopt the practice of personalizing the user experience

As we dive deeper into personalization plans, I continue to find a disconnect in the perception between how sales and marketing departments view their customer lifecycles and how website architects and user experience designers build profiles to inform navigation and user experience. The first is market-driven, the second is task-driven.

What’s needed is a framework to help both teams wrap their arms around an approach, and mind the gap between sales and design mentality.

As I started to develop a model for this framework, I found myself starting with three ways to approach the initial segmentation.

Type one: the market segment

A traditional approach to segmentation which associates users with specific products and service offerings. A buying persona is often defined based upon a broad category (i.e. small business or enterprise). The segmentation is done implicitly through website behavior or explicitly through actual customer data in a CRM or e-mail system. The application of market-based segmentation is to appropriate merchandise produces, services and offers that match the buyer persona’s category.

Type two: the user type

This segmentation approach matches the user objectives and emotional orientation with personalized messaging that speaks to motivations, goals, and hot buttons. A mother would receive different content and images than a single male for example.

Application: Used to customize messaging (tone, voice) and features, but often serving the same content and products

Type three: the engagement level

This segmentation approach focuses on identifying users based on the depth of their relationship to the brand and often follows an engagement life-cycle.

Application: Used to customize a call to action and offers based upon the logical next step in the relationship.

For example, a first-time visitor to the site may get an offer for an informational based deliverable (i.e. whitepaper), where a repeat visitor that already has the paper may get a product trial offer.

Whoops—we personalized ourselves out of business

There is no doubt that web personalization can improve user experience, performance, and conversion, but it does come with a cost. The more complex your personalization plan, the

  • Higher the cost of implementation
  • More challenging it becomes to manage and maintain content
  • Increased chance of losing your users to:
    • The realization of being targeted
    • Assumptions which miss the mark and isolate the user
    • Variations of personalization that align to poor content

So whether you are just beginning to personalize experience and content, or a seasoned veteran looking to take it to the next level, here are a few things to consider.

Keep it Simple. A recent personalization project with only three user types, nets hundreds of content options when you map against standard industrial classifications (SIC). Include product application variables, and personalizing to your market segments alone become an exponential challenge to address.

Let the tools do the work. Whether segmenting email contacts, creating CRM segments for offers, or performing behavioral targeting on the fly, keep tight reigns on your data quality and put rules in place to do the heavy lifting. But don’t become overly reliant on automated rules for personalizing. Completely automating the process isn’t a realistic solution

Measure. Measure. Measure. As your hunger for personalization increases, you’ll want to bring in even more technology and tools. Set aside enough of the technology budget to measure the results of your efforts. Always have a baseline to know if your efforts are producing the desired lift.

Find a quick win. More often than not, there are market segments and business lines that can rapidly move the needle for an organization. Start with the ones which can deliver the largest impact, measure carefully, and broaden your efforts from that point. Find a quick and easy win that can pave the way for larger initiatives.

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