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Personalization Pitfalls & Best Practices (Pt. 1)

Personalization Pitfalls & Best Practices (Pt. 1)

Personalization is not easy. When most companies try to deploy personalization, they normally fall into one of these common pitfalls that cause their efforts to fail:

  • They aren’t sure where to start with personalization, and they roll it out without being fully prepared. Frequently, businesses try to go all-in with personalization and fail from the start because they don't have a true view of the customer, they don't understand their data and they don't understand how those two things can work together.
  • They don’t understand personalization, from its most basic to most sophisticated form. Without a deep understanding of personalization, you cannot create a winning strategy.
  • They don’t match their personalization objectives to their organizational capabilities. This means they don’t have the people or the processes in place to support personalization, but they try to implement it anyway.
  • They work in silos and only create content for specific channels or campaigns. If the focus is too small or siloed, the organization will achieve some successful personalization, but that success is small and will fail as soon as it’s expanded.
  • They can't map out and understand use cases before they start personalizing content. This leads to poor, unspecific personalization.
  • They push the same personalization tactics over and over, without understanding if they work or not. This creates an echo chamber of poor personalization efforts that ultimately damages the brand.

To help you avoid these issues and build a powerful personalization strategy, we created this two-part blog series that will provide you with a thorough list of best practices.

Best Practices That Can Help You Create a Winning Personalization Strategy

1. Understand Your Data, Segmentation & Customers

An essential best practice for personalization is ensuring you have clean data that gives you a complete understanding of your data silos, segmentation and customers. If you don’t understand your data, you won’t gain any meaningful insights about your customers, and everything you send out to them won’t be properly personalized. On top of that, you won’t be able to build a centralized data lake and enable your IT and MarTech systems to talk to each other.

To develop a basic understanding of your data and customers, start by focusing on basic heuristic rules and then evolve from there to become more contextually aware. You should also think about the following questions to get more context: 

  • Where are my customers?
  • What are they doing in each context?
  • Are there repeatable patterns at different times in the day?

After you have figured this out and gotten insights from your heuristic rules, you can work up more advanced personalization strategies, like collaborative filtering.

2. Your Content Has to Be Right at All Times

For better personalization, you always need to deliver the right content. For example, it’s great if you figured out that a user needs to see more of a specific item on your eCommerce site, but it’s a big issue if you do not have enough inventory to show them those items. You also need to ensure your content writers and marketing teams understand what type of content must be distributed across omni channels.

In addition, your content strategy needs to define where and how content will be repurposed, moved, served and sliced, so you can quickly send out content to a variety of touchpoints.

3. Use Semantic Meaning & Deeper Content Tagging in Your Personalization Strategy

Recently, two key trends have emerged in personalization: semantic meaning and deeper content tagging. You should leverage both to enhance your personalization strategy.

If you use semantic meaning in your strategy, you can identify and react to a user’s emotions to further enhance personalization. One way you can do this is by configuring a voice control product to sense a user’s tone and react to it to better personalize the experience in real time. If the user is happy, the product will provide a different experience than if it recognizes that they’re upset.

If you perform deeper content tagging, you can cut and slice content into dynamic fragments to increase its value. Let’s say a person follows a famous musical artist that recently performed on a late-night show. With deeper content tagging, a system could dynamically take that performance and serve it to the end user within a feed of their interests rather than the whole show. Deeper tagging also improves associations between different types of content.

4. Leverage Your Data and Technology Teams

A key personalization best practice that many organizations overlook is how well their data and technology teams can service the business. With data, data lakes, MarTech and personalization, there's a huge opportunity for you to use these teams as centers of excellence for your internal customers. The companies that leverage these teams will be the ones that leapfrog their personalization and outdo the competition.

5. Know Your Business Model & Who You Are Selling To

To ensure you’re implementing the best strategy, you must understand how personalization fits into your business model. For example, if you’re selling a streaming service to a family, you would not personalize content unless you are certain you know the customer context. In this scenario, the father may own the account, so you send him personalization plans. However, his kids are using most of the data on the service, so they’re receiving a plan that doesn’t apply to them at all.

You cannot personalize when you cannot get the context right, and you cannot recommend something that makes absolutely no sense to the customer because that will impact how customers perceive your brand. In situations like this, keep personalization simple. Even if you send an email or message that only includes the account owner’s first name, that is better than incorrectly personalizing and damaging your brand.

6. Determine Your Organization’s Maturity

You need to know the following about your organization’s maturity to successfully implement personalization:

  • Where your business is, where your technology stack is, when you started your tech stack and when you're going to move to a new architecture
  • If your data is a single source of information
  • How easy it is to read, manipulate and homogenize data from different sources so you can use it in your personalization strategy
  • If your business unit supports your data and if everyone is moving in the same direction

All these factors must be understood before you set yourself on your personalization journey and decide on a common vision of what personalization means to your organization.

7. Break Down Organizational Silos

Your business cannot work in silos if you want to implement personalization successfully. So, all the entities within your organization — including subunits — must come together to foster a nurturing environment that enables you to create a comprehensive personalization strategy. This unified approach to personalization will help you incorporate KPIs and success metrics from various stakeholders into your personalization strategy. Furthermore, this approach will improve the adoption rate of your strategy across business units.

If your organization is working in silos, performing an application portfolio rationalization is one of the easiest ways to start breaking them down, as it helps you understand:

  • What can be consolidated
  • What can be phased out
  • What you need to maintain in your legacy infrastructure and how long you need to maintain it

8. CDOs & CMOs Need to Help Create the Personalization Strategy

In the past, the personalization strategy was constructed by the IT team, CTO and CIO, who were mainly concerned with securely storing data and making it easy to access and bin. Today, content and marketing teams are an integral part of the personalization strategy, so your CDOs and CMOs must give their input on the following:

  • What data needs to be captured
  • How data is stored and maintained
  • How to build models with data
  • How to curate data
  • How to create a golden record with data

Check out part two of this series to discover personalization best practices for analytics, technology and more. You can also learn more about personalization and how MACH simplifies, accelerates and elevates it in our eBook Unlocking Personalization with MACH Technology.


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