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The Stages of The Personalization Journey, Explained

Article • February 9, 2022 • Written by: Diane Keng

Personalization has become a strategic priority for brands focusing on direct-to-consumer digital channels and looking to deliver meaningful experiences to their consumers. However, personalization is more than a strategy or a task that marketers need to check off their task list – it’s a journey. To effectively deliver personalized experiences that are relevant and scalable, marketing teams need to make sure they are able to set measurable goals, understand and overcome challenges and see results at every stage of their personalization journey. 

What is the Personalization Journey?

In the past the consumer goods and retail industries have typically defined personalization as providing different experiences for different consumer segments, the ultimate goal being to understand what consumers want and provide it to them. With tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Netflix using predictive personalization to provide their consumers with next level digital experiences that are timely and relevant, consumer brands have a bit of a gap to fill. 

Achieving this level of predictive personalization can be quite simple when it’s broken down into stages. Instead of approaching personalization as a multi-year extremely complex project, breaking it down into 3 stages can help brands effectively integrate predictive personalization into their digital strategy and see results at each stage. 

The benefit of doing it this way is that it is much less overwhelming and more scalable, with better ROI. At each stage, marketing teams can identify important business goals, challenges and most importantly, solutions to these business goals and challenges. 

Every brand is at a different stage of their own personalization journey. In fact, even different brands within the same company might be at different places depending on their budgets, as well as the amount of data and technology they have access to. What is important is understanding where you currently are on your journey to predictive personalization. 

The Stages of Personalization

While the personalization journey isn’t necessarily a linear process, the three main stages are:

  1. Collect data and extract actionable insights.

Effective predictive personalization is built on a strong foundation of data and data science practices. It’s not just important to have data, but equally important to collect, tag and manage it in a systematic way. This enables marketing teams to easily identify actionable insights and make data-driven decisions in a scalable way. Proper data collection and data tagging means that you can easily identify use cases for personalization that can be measured as well. 

To build a foundation of data science for digital marketing teams requires data science talent or external technologies or vendors that are able to streamline this process. 

At this stage of the personalization journey, marketing teams might want to ask themselves the following questions:

  • What are the business objectives that predictive personalization can help us achieve? What are some questions that I need answered about my consumers? This helps identify actionable insights for marketing teams and use cases for personalization. 
  • What data is required in order to achieve these objectives? This could be consumer behavior on specific marketing channels, consumer demographics, external factors like seasonal trends.
  • What is our current technology stack? Also what data do we already have access to and how is it tagged? This is important to figure out if you are looking at technology driven predictive personalization tools. 
  1. Start optimizing the consumer journey with simple personalization.

Once you are collecting and systematically tagging data, it’s time to figure out the best ways to start using it immediately. This means identifying some use cases that will help you optimize consumer journeys on one or more of your marketing channels. This is what we call simple personalization, because it allows you to purposefully curate digital experiences for your consumer in a small, but measurable and impactful way. 

An example of this could be retailers looking to drive traffic to their physical stores. Consumers might do product research online and go to the “Find A Store Near You” page, but leave because they don’t want to enter their zip code and search for a store. Here, you could use consumers' locations to automatically enter their zip code and show them stores that are close to them, making it easier for them to visit a store since they know where to go now. 

At this stage, it is important for marketers to have short-term goals related to digital consumer experiences that optimization can help them meet. This provides an important foundation for continuously learning about your consumers and finding opportunities to meet their needs. Another benefit of optimization is that it allows you to focus on certain aspects of the digital experience and still have rules when curating experiences.  

  1. Enable predictive and dynamic personalization at scale.

Predictive and dynamic personalization is the final stage of the personalization journey. At this stage, personalization isn’t just limited to certain sections of your marketing channels, but it is the backbone of your digital channel. For example, if simple personalization is optimizing  a “You May Also Like” carousel with product recommendations, predictive and dynamic personalization enables your entire website to adapt to individual consumers’ changing preferences and behaviors. This means every consumer that visits your website could experience a different combination of layouts and content that is relevant to their needs at that time. 

This level of predictive and dynamic personalization is generally delivered by AI-driven technology to provide this experience at scale. It can feel intimidating to give technology this level of control over your brand experiences, but most of us already experience this. Netflix and Amazon have created platforms that deliver personalization in this way. No two users have the same Amazon home page or the same Netflix home page. As a brand you can still deliver these types of experiences, without being too intrusive to consumers and maintaining a consistent brand experience. 

At this point, brands are well-equipped to use dynamic content across channels like email, SMS, and their websites, and they’ve got the tools and data to do it effectively. In this stage, the key to success is tying personalization efforts to specific business goals. Think about it: improving conversions isn’t the same as boosting CRM registrations, and increasing basket size requires a different approach than increasing sales. Setting specific goals and understanding how AI can be applied to them is a big step towards improving the consumer experience and driving ROI.

To effectively execute predictive and dynamic personalization, it’s important to have answers to some of the following questions:

  • What business goals will personalization help us achieve? Ideally there are not more than 2-3 prioritized goals that this can tie back to. Technology can do a lot for you, but it’s important to understand why you are using it.  
  • What are the non-negotiables in terms of the brand experience you want to provide consumers? For example, if you are doing dynamic layouts on a website, what are the key elements of the website that must remain consistent across all consumers? 
  • What are the different marketing channels you want to personalize for consumers? Predictive and dynamic personalization at this level should work across channels, but it is important to identify where consumers cross over. If they receive a personalized email with a specific discount but don’t see it immediately when they get to your website, that’s not a good experience for them. 

At each stage, your brand should have specific goals that serve as a lighthouse to decision making. There are different ways to approach personalization and each stage comes with it’s own challenges, but to see results quickly and implement technology effectively it’s important to stay consumer-focused and remember your business objectives. 

If you understand where your team is on the journey to personalization and approach it in a systematic way,  it can be quite simple to deliver relevant and joyful experiences to your consumers which can also help you grow your business within just a matter of a few months. 

To learn more or get started with predictive personalization, check out our other blog posts or reach out to us today!

Ready to transform your digital personalization with incredible speed?

Diane Keng

CEO & Co-Founder @ Breinify
Forbes 30 Under 30 for Enterprise Technology