Originally posted on wirestone.com.

In 1999, I championed one of the first personalized newsletter initiatives online. Our growing interactive entertainment hub had nearly four million unique visitors, and we wanted to increase customer visits, engagement, and page views. We also had formidable competition and wanted to create a vehicle that would drive reader affinity. A newsletter that delivered targeted compelling content was the solution. (Remember that there were no smart phones or social sign-on tools in 1999.)

It took months of engineering and a genius engineer to create a newsletter that allowed each reader to choose both the content and frequency for their newsletter. Servers ran at full speed all night to deliver these complex newsletters; a task that today’s IT infrastructure can do in minutes or hours. As a result, customer registrations increased, as did clicks, page views, advertising impressions, and most importantly, revenue.

Today, this type of personalization – and the monetization of personalization – is an ongoing challenge for marketers.  Many marketers have the email engine, but not the comprehensive repository of customer data required to deliver compelling, personalized marketing.  Some marketers have both the engine and the customer data, but are lacking the social graph data and analytics that would take their outgoing marketing to the next level.

Ecommerce leaders such as Amazon, Nike, and Target have invested in the people, technology, and analytics to serve up The Four P’s to customers wherever they are – at retail, on the web, in apps, by mail, etc. At the same time, smaller retailers with shallower pockets but just as much pluck (Modcloth, Fab, HomeMint) are using the social graph to deliver personalized customer experiences to great results.

So, how does your organization balance which marketing initiatives to personalize? We often use these five elements, as defined by Forrester.1

  1. Prioritize what to personalize. Architect personalization tools based on desired outcomes.
  2. Estimate the customer’s expectation of personalization. Use surveys and customer feedback to determine what’s really wanted by the end customer.
  3. Distinguish between known and unknown attributes. Weigh demographic, geographic, and purchasing behavior to inform your marketing.
  4. Understand the level of analytical complexity.  Be honest about what data your firm has in hand and the degree of personalization it can drive.
  5. Choose the interaction context. Make the highest use of the channel, e.g., retail salespeople, kiosks, point-of-purchase, mobile, web, etc. and consider the best medium for your message, e.g., email, video, game …

The expectation is that businesses will stop making the shopper work so hard. “Lean back” technologies such as tablets and look books (Pinterest, Houzz) have demonstrated (time and again) that a great majority of us are voyeurs. So, as retailers, it’s on us to deliver what the customer wants, where and when they want it. Those of us that do not won’t be around to answer customer service calls in the future.

Forrester Research, Inc. “Use Customer Analytics To Get Personal. Analytically Driven Personalization Increases Retention And Return.”