Research shows that 73% of consumers expect brands to personalize and tailor online experiences to meet their needs. It feels weird when websites don’t give people what they want and expect. Personalization matters for your business, even in difficult times.
Today’s guest is Amey Shivapurkar, an experienced optimization SME at Avionos. Amey helps clients create data-driven experiences that deliver business outcomes. He talks about how personalization isn’t always easy, but worth considering for marketers to maximize CRO, create meaningful results, and drive user experiences.
Ben: Hi Amey. Welcome to the show.
Amey: Hi. How are you?
Ben: I'm doing well. How about yourself?
Amey: I'm doing fine.
Ben: Good to hear it. Would you mind just taking a brief moment to introduce yourself and explain what you do at Avionos?
Amey: I'm an experienced optimization SME at Aviaonos. Avionos is a digital marketing consulting company, where we design and implement digital commerce and marketing solutions. I focus on helping our clients create data-driven experiences that deliver business outcomes. With that, if you know all about personalization and essentially getting people to meet their needs while also driving user experiences.
Ben: I understand that there's data that says that 73% of consumers expect their digital experiences to be personalized. Could you maybe explain just briefly, what exactly does that mean? What kinds of personalization exactly are consumers looking for from brands right now?
Amey: That's a great question. Customers are really looking for brands to give an experience based on previous interactions that they've done. With that being said, if I've come to a site and I have looked at two or three products, that the rest of my experience should be done by recommending those same types of products.
The same thing for a lot of the B2B companies that we work for is that if I'm reading a couple of articles, then maybe the next time I come back to the site, the site remembers and promotes some of those content as well. It's really about providing the most relevant content at the right time.
Ben: Makes sense. I understand that if you want to add this functionality to a website—any kind of personalization, whether it's to a website, maybe to email automation, whatever type of experiences that you're looking to create—there's going to be some degree of investment, whether that same design, developments, maintenance, software, and in-house expertise in understanding how to use all of those different tools and software pieces. With that said, what are some of the key benefits that really make all that investment worthwhile?
Amey: Some of the key benefits are the obvious ones. Improving customer loyalty and engagement, some of those vanity metrics. But what really helps our clients, and what we've seen at work, is that it expedites that customer journey. One of the clients we'll talk about in a little bit is the JLL. They are a lead generation company, and their customer life cycle is typically maybe 3–6 months, when they actually make a purchase from when that first visit hits. If we wait for someone to come to the site, maybe do a couple of downloads, maybe subscribe for something, and then come back in maybe another month or so, if we just let that all be static and not necessarily dynamic on the person, then everyone's going through that same cycle.
But if maybe a person comes to the site and looking at three or four research articles for a specific topic, we now have that information, so we are able to start, whether it's through giving them personalized emails, whether it's reaching them to on different social channels, or even just in a site which is giving them triggers at different parts of the site. Through personalization really able to expedite that customer journey and almost get those leads a little close quicker.
Ben: It makes sense. As a marketer, if I've never really delved into the realm of personalization much for, how would you recommend I get started if I'm in a position where I don't have a ton of resources at my disposal to put into it right away?
Amey: Typically, how we come into any client that we work with, it's that same use case. We have some budget or some resources, and we want to be able to understand how we can get from point A to point B, that term usually being the [...] maturity. There's a couple of simple steps that you can take to get there. It's one of the things where I would have to crawl, walk, run. You don't need to get to the end product right away, but there are certain things that you can do very quickly. Some of the key things, the steps to start with that a lot of people miss is defining that measurement framework that tracks through the customer journey. That will ultimately help you determine where are the best opportunities for personalization.
We have had clients that just wanted to skip that phase and say hey, we know our customers do this, that, and the other. Let's just go ahead and do personalization on the bottom of the article page. We'll do personalization, the metrics that they were looking to increase didn't really pan out, and now they lost interest in personalization, buy-in, and networking.
Whereas on the flip end, when we worked with clients that actually defined that measurement strategy for the customer journey, then they're actually able to target the piece that they are wanting to personalize and align those KPIs to that personalization. Now, we are actually improving on that bottom line and making sure that everything we're doing has an intention to it. That's the first piece, just define that measurement framework and making sure you have a clear understanding of what you want to do.
The second point is identifying your internal capabilities and skills. One of the big misconceptions is that the team needs to be large. What's really been great, especially in this personalization space, is that the tools that are out there now have really put the emphasis on trying to take a lot of the work out of you or away from the team to actually have to do the heavy lifting.
Then second, there's a lot of automation now. You don't necessarily need to have someone that has to go do the analysis of the data or do the inputs of the different audiences. You have tools that do that for you. Additionally, once you identify those skill sets that you have internally, that's when some vendors come to us to say hey, we have the ability to do X. We have the ability to do project management but really need SME to help us get started. That's where we can come in and help empower people. That's a lot of times what we do and what we do with our clients. That's something that could take, maybe 3–6 months. We, as a training, a hands-off process, we've empowered your team to actually run away with it.
The last part is a lot of people get scared of just doing things, just experimenting and iterating and not being scared of actually just putting something out there. A lot of times clients think their first personalization has to be perfect, and it has to be something super complex. But with clients, you can start with something so simple as just displaying a welcome message to return visitors, something very simple to do. How you build and grow on that, you start to walk, do a little bit more, and then eventually you get to the part where you can really personalize off of a visitor's profile that might be a little more dynamic.
Ben: Once marketers who get to that more advanced level, where they're really able to run with their personalization practice, what are maybe some best practices or some tactics or areas of opportunity that you would recommend, they really focus on to really excel with personalization, once they've got a pretty good handle on what they're doing?
Amey: The best way that companies can mature the personalization is to start to solidify that data layer that's available to you to personalize. For example, metadata. You make your personalization more dynamic and more automated. If you're going to be essentially feeding data into your personalization engine and you want to make sure that you are using the right data that is attributed to your products or your articles.
As an example, we had a client previously that they wanted to do a Carousel on their eCommerce site based on products. The category for the product was dealing with a lot. One of the things was that the products did not have the incorrect metadata, so people were going to beauty, and then they were getting recommendations for garbage bags.
That ends into being a poor experience, and that's something where you really want to make sure the plumbing of your data and your content is the most ideal so that way you can actually start to automate things a lot quicker.
Another piece is to also start to develop a little bit more of high-value audiences. I referenced earlier when you first started, you might just do something as an audience of a returned visitor. But now you start to look for and look into that data. You can say, we noticed that people that looked at articles in a specific category are more inclined to do a lead generation or make an order sample. Then, you can start to add the information to your visitor profile and get that full customer 360° view of your customers and really understand how you can personalize them to them.
The last one is what touches on all of them and just automating when possible. Again, that leans towards those tools that you use. The more that you can automate and the less that you need to do any manual intervention or analysis will really drive that personalization a lot further.
Ben: Something worth touching on here is what personalization can do for your conversion rates. While it's easy for marketers to focus on just bringing more people onto our website, blogs, and landing pages, sometimes just getting more of your existing traffic to convert at a higher rate can actually be a much more profitable path forward. That's something worth doing anything that you can to improve your customer's experience on your site may be able to make a major impact. If you're still wondering why personalization might matter for your business, that might be the best place to start that conversation with your CMO or CEO about how you're going to move the needle in the right direction even as times are getting tough.
To anybody who has a sense of power that a CRO can have for a business, will tell you that that is obvious. Increase your conversion rate then you don't need more traffic. You might even need less traffic than the amount of traffic you're getting right now if you can get good enough at moving your conversion rates up. For how valuable CRO is and how valuable it can be, it is way under-discussed. If you're thinking along these lines, like how do I get the most out of what I've got, I would advise thinking about that conversation, or thinking about that question in terms of how can personalization help you increase your conversion rates. Now back to Amey.
Personalization can get relatively complex fairly quickly, and anything that's relatively complicated or anything that has some degree of a learning curve involved, there are certainly plenty of potential to make some wrong moves or to just maybe get yourself into trouble a little bit if you're not totally confident in what you're doing. With that said, are there any potential pitfalls or common mistakes involved with personalization that you see marketers make that they should be careful to avoid?
Amey: Yeah. One of the things that we saw was through one of our internal studies, that 41% of customers will stop using your brand through bad experiences. Obviously, that's a very umbrella term, but bad experiences will lead to bad personalization that will not end out well. Some of the mistakes that we've seen people do, leaning back towards defining that KPI measurement and that framework is understanding, having a purpose and intention to what you want to personalize, and making sure that you're not just doing things for vanity effect. You're not just doing things to keep people on the site longer or just click one more page. I think those kinds of metrics are not going to get you the return that you're looking for. You'll ultimately end up losing buying into the program and it'll just start to fizzle.
Another thing that I've seen is not allowing enough time to actually let things run and develop results. With some clients we've done in the past, everyone wants results yesterday. We'll go ahead, run the personalization, and within three or four days, people want to just determine whether something was a success or not. You really need time to let things run to get enough traffic—(1) Make sure you're having data that has a good competence. (2) Make sure that you are getting to that given number that you need to have some confidence in those numbers.
Another part is to not silo your personalization efforts from (whether you want to call it) your development or your product management cue to whatever the case, is not siloed. Those two.
I think a lot of times people are thinking, we got to do development, and we have a separate team that's doing personalization. A lot of times, especially as we start to mature the program, those things go hand-in-hand. You want to make sure that they are integrated into each other, both that roadmap and also the green process. That way you know, we need to either develop these capabilities to mature personalization, or you can even save development costs by not having to do certain development tasks because you realize you can actually do that through your personalization tool and actually will save you a lot of time. I think that's another piece.
Another piece of just being scared to fail. I think that is something that is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to business and a website or that might be revenue-generating, but just being open to experiment and see what happens. In most cases in your targeting and personalization tool, you can easily turn things on and off with just a switch or a toggle. It's not something that, if I do this it will crash everything. It's something that you just need to go out there and see what happens. As long as you stick to your measurement framework and the skills that you have internally, then you should be able to get some results or at least not completely wreck everything.
Ben: That makes sense. The last question that I'll throw your way. Say, I'm a middle manager of the company or maybe I'm an individual contributor in some capacity on a marketing team, and I want to make some pitch—my CMO, my CEO—to some C-suite level stakeholder who needs to sign-off on moving forward with making personalization a part of the marketing program that this company is running. How would you advise that marketer make their pitch that personalization is an area that they should be investing in right now, particularly, at a time where everybody's resources are a bit more strapped than what they would be under normal circumstances?
Amey: That's a great question. That's something that we're dealing with our clients and our prospective clients as well. Obviously, it's the main concern. One of the things, again, I just lean back on this all the time is making sure that you lean in with what's that measurement framework and how that tracks to the customer journey. I know that can seem boring, but the idea is if I am a lead generation website and we are trying to generate more leads that can go to our sales team, that way they can do whatever they need to generate more revenue. We want to make sure we generate leads. How do we do that through personalization?
One of the things we can do is look at those metrics that align with the different pieces of that journey. We have people coming to the site. How are they coming to that site? What are the KPIs that we look for there? Then, we have people who are engaging with our different pages. What are the KPIs around that? What are those metrics?
Finally, once we get to the regeneration form, we have the metrics around starting the completion of that form, and then understand that through personalization, we can actually fine-tune each one of those pieces of that journey to improve on those metrics, which will ultimately improve the business outcomes. I think that's really where we try to lean all the time.
It's all about the data and the metrics. It's not about the pine when people try to go and say, personalization is what everyone's doing, so we want to do it. Especially in this environment, that's not going to work, but when we go to someone and say, through personalization, we think we can improve form completion by X percent, or we can improve the amount of getting to the form. Even if you're not confident about the conversion rate of a form, you can start to say, by doing personalization, we can get more people to take action at different parts of the step, measure them, and then through personalization, expedite that customer journey. I think that's something that, from a C-suite leadership, usually goes a long way in making a case for that tool.
Ben: I think that's pretty advice. It's a question I didn't want to leave this conversation without asking because if you can't get past that step, nothing matters. If you can't get the powers to sign off, open the checkbook, and make a personalization or any marketing initiatives that we want to take on, you have to make those things possible.
Amey: I think another thing, even when you get to that point, leadership will sign off, you've now got the tools. One of the things as well is to not keep pushing the personalization banner, is one of the things people do is they get the money, they get the funding, they do the personalization, they get great results, but they don't share that internally, they don't share that to leadership. I think personalization is one of those things where a lot of people have the case that they think it's a nice to have where really, personally, I think it’s a must at this point, but I do think it's nice to have. Until you actually execute it, you don't realize the true benefit in getting it.
Also, once you start to get there, it actually saves you development costs as well because now, in using these tools you don't need to use maybe the time and development that you need to be on for certain personalization pieces. It’s just one of those things that once you do get it, make sure that everyone knows about the program because you want to have leadership instead of thinking, we need to add this new functionality to the form. You want them to start thinking, how can we better personalize this experience for these types of customers. And now, you're actually doing things with a purpose and an intention, and not just doing things that you think that is the way to go.
Ben: Great advice. With that said, that does it for all the questions I have prepared for you. But before I let you go, is there anything else you'd like to add or any parting thoughts you'd like to throw out there that you maybe didn't get an opportunity to touch on before?
Amey: First, thank you for having me; this is great. I think when it comes to personalization, it's something, especially as people are starting to look out, as to how can I do this for you, especially with all the tools coming out is to just make sure you look internally at your skill sets. Involve and understand that personalization does not require a full massive team. We've had clients where we've successfully left them with a team of just 2–3 people who are doing the personalization, and it's only maybe one of the person's full-time jobs. With one of those things that once you have the tools, once you have the skill sets and process, it's something that is easy to achieve. You have to get there by that crawl-walk-run approach. Then once you do, are the opportunities that come with them.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.