The Personalization Revolution

While the concept of personalization isn’t new, I believe it will be the single most important challenge for digital marketers to manage this year and for several years to come.

With the world going digital so quickly, consumers will soon expect each of their online experiences (on the web, mobile, email, IPTV and so forth) to be 100 percent relevant to them – and here’s the rub – while not infringing on their privacy. The Do Not Track debate should serve as a wake-up call to online marketers and advertisers that it’s time to start rethinking how they approach personalization. The solution lies in their ability to understand two things; consumers don’t like invasive tracking techniques such as retargeting and personalization and profile-based tracking are not one and the same.
On the first point, many consumers are simply creeped out by having their every move tracked. Invasive tracking can also seriously damage brands’ relationships with customers.
Case in point: one of the more interesting findings from Baynote’s recent Holiday Online Shopping Experience Survey was the vast majority of online shoppers – 84 percent – were unwilling to disclose their personal information for greater personalization. Further, 48 percent said the practice of retargeting actually turns them off to retailers altogether.
Yet, the solution to online privacy is not as easy as not tracking consumers at all. This brings me to the second point about marketers all too frequently driving their personalization programs with profile data, instead of actual customer intent.
Most marketers assume you need access to someone’s personal information to personalize their experience online. But that’s just not true. If you’re marketing effectively, a large proportion of your web traffic will be new visitors; people you have no data on. But that doesn’t mean you know nothing about them.
Implicit actions like scrolling, dwell time and on-site searches can tell you more than you’d ever imagine about what a visitor is trying to do and what they need, and all without needing to know their name, location, shoe size and so forth. These so-called weak signals are actually incredibly valuable clues to the visitor’s true intent, but many companies overlook them every day.
Once you’re tuned in to intent clues, adding in profile data can be quite valuable. But without any insight about intent, profile data alone has limited personalization power.
Of course, marketers should augment their intent-based personalization strategies with historical profile data only if consumers indicate that they’re okay with having this type of information used to improve the experience. This balanced and transparent approach assures that advertisers are able to deliver what their customers want now, not what they might have been interested in when they visited their website yesterday.
As the privacy debate heats up, I predict online advertisers will seek out more implicit, less invasive ways of tracking consumers that don’t rely solely on social graphs or past purchases.
Carlos Carvajal is vice president of marketing for Baynote, a provider of personalization and digital marketing optimization software. Prior to Baynote, Carlos spent ten years at Vignette Corporation.
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