Let’s Stop Talking About Ourselves

Voice of Consumer, User-Generated Content, and new routes to Personalized online experiences

The Holy Grail for marketers today is personalization. Between 2017 and 2019 the global size of the market for Customer Data Platforms (CDP) – the primary capability that helps segment audiences to start delivering personalization – grew from USD $300 million to $1 billion. This explosive growth is being driven by brands and retailers that want to anticipate the needs of consumers. And each of us has already experienced it: “Welcome back, Tony”; “Recommended products for you”; being retargeted with banners from the last site you visited; receiving an email when you abandon a shopping cart; receiving an email when you haven’t visited a site where you purchased something in the past.

What drives each of these examples is the notion of “journeys,” where we take the fluid, dynamic life of the consumer and break it down into specific inputs and the resulting actions. A typical journey reads like a process flow where the marketer plots the various pain points a consumer might encounter, and what redirects can help the consumer get past them. Many of these redirects are opportunities for personalization.

In your experience, you have likely encountered personalization that seemingly wasn’t designed to address a specific pain point, like anticipating your native language. But the most prevalent pain point of all in digital marketing is “friction” and delivering a personalized experience such as anticipating language is one small way that friction is removed.

Marketers want more than pain point relief. The next level of personalization gets into content customization on a granular level: when you receive an email about an offer it has imagery that reflects products you have purchased in the past, and the color scheme reflects the time of day and the prevailing weather conditions when you’ve opened the email. A web site or app can flow in content that is tuned to a very specific, individualized level such that is designed to indirectly influence your “next best action” whether it’s a potential purchase or if you’re viewed as a “churn risk.”

It’s all very exciting for marketers. And exciting means it’s expensive. Beyond standing up capabilities, managing huge amounts of data, creating governance processes and other buzz killers, the real hurdle to achieving true personalization is content. Building a web site or sending an email used to be a “one-and-done” proposition: you design it, you write it, you publish it, you’re done; a workflow that is a carry-over from standard paper publishing.

In the digital world, content is what delivers personalized experiences. At its most fundamental level, you need a different portfolio of content tuned to each consumer. There are three basic models for this:

  1. Create as much content as you can upfront and mix-and-match dynamically based on who’s viewing

  2. Source the content you need based on the viewer’s profile

  3. A hybrid of the above two

The first requires a lot of up-front content creation (man-hours + long lead-times), a wide-ranging integration to multiple syndication tools, and a robust testing capability to expose what’s working and what isn’t. It works well with retargeting, replacing the blunt-force method of having banners chase you from site to site after you visit a product detail page. Instead you determine the user’s surfing journey by cookies and/or device ID, infer an affinity profile for the user that includes the product detail page visited, and later (but not too much later) run an ad on a social that combines content elements that reflect the affinity and the viewer’s likely place in the path to purchase.

The second is more sophisticated but not necessarily more effective. The focus with this approach is content curation: Knowing where to find the various types of content you need, categorizing its appeal for various audience archetypes, creating integration points to flow the content to the right places at the right times. There’s more to it but the key here is that a robust content ocean is replaced by a very fluid, deep capability in how to synthesize a consumer experience from multiple in-house and external sources.

The hybrid approach cherry-picks between the two, governed mainly by the capabilities and budget of the retailer or brand that is putting all this out there.

This article segment was originally written for my column in E-commerce Brasil magazine. Read the entire article at Future Shopping on Medium.com with more background, stats, and approaches.

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