What to use for personalisation?

Personalisation is up there with some of the top digital marketing buzzwords, but how do you do it? Let's be honest, unless you're Amazon it's unlikely people are logging into your website when they visit, so you have no idea on age, gender, purchase history, etc and you might not even have an account login, so what do you use?

Personalisation vs Targeting
Before we start it's worth being on the same page with what Personalisation is, as quite often marketers discuss Personalisation and Targeting interchangeably, here's how Wikipedia describes the 2:
  • Personalisation, also known as customisation, involves using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals.
  • Targeting is to make a thing or group of things a target, to select it or them to be acted upon.
You can think of Personalisation as a customer/visitor benefit and Targeting as a marketer benefit, however, there are situations when the line seems fine. A good example is when Starbucks use mobile proximity targeting to pull customers into the store, this is clearly a marketer benefit and not you having content personalised based on your location.

Outside of one-to-one marketing, much of what is termed as Personalisation could perhaps be better described as content customisation. With that in mind, let's look at some targeting/personalisation examples that don't require a logged-in state or account id:

Why guess? Just ask 'em! A simple example below from British Airways asking for your country and language as you visit their website; this is a far better approach compared to when Google has a guess and shows you the default language of wherever you're located. This could be expanded onto many levels, how about asking homepage visitors to identify themselves into customer segments (business, consumer, support, agent, reseller). Armed with this information your personalisation capabilities have significantly increased.

According to surveys, if you're using Internet Explorer you're above 40 and technically less savvy; Chrome user and you're younger and more "with it". I have observed staggering conversion rate difference between browser types. I'm sure this is why Adwords (& others) don't offer browser targeting as much of their ad revenue would vanish overnight. So if correlations between browser and age are believed, this can be powerful especially if you offer products that target certain age groups.

Operating System
While operating system conversion rates will most likely vary, my experience (to date) suggests it's less predictable and persona assumptions are harder to make, that being said if you're offering OS specific products it's a highly predictive variable; for example you offer Windows and Mac hardware/software.

Responsive/ adaptive design is one of the most popular forms of content customisation, with content and sometimes the offer changing radically based on the device. Customisation needs to be approached with caution as users are often in research-mode on mobile and want to see the same content as a desktop user. If your analytics data shows that mobile users don't convert as well as desktop, maybe the user experience should be simplified so that mobile users can be educated easily with more selling options left to the desktop/tablet experience.

Onsite behaviour
When visitors are exposed to paid search landing pages, visit a product page or take an action such as download, make a purchase, search onsite they are self-identifying and this information can be used for returning visits, for example, a homepage that helps them complete their goal easier.

Depending on what you do, this could be considered the low-hanging-fruit. Popular products can vary across geo and region so this can influence homepage offers. If you're a multinational company this could be an opportunity to adapt creative to the country or city so the experience feels more local and if you have a multi-language website then your personalised language should read like it was written by a native and not Google Translate.

The big one here could be seasonality, based on the period of time and sometimes used in conjunction with location it might mean certain products are more popular and content can be adapted accordingly. Depending on your business this could be done at a granular scale for example weekends or even time of day.

New vs. Returning
How does visitor behaviour differ? Are new visitors less likely to convert compared to repeat, if so does research material need to be more prominent for new visitors while returning visitor content can be more focused towards conversion?

Referring URL
This could be an easy way for adapting content if you have some significant referrers where the referring content helps identify the persona.

Tracking always on personalisation
So how do you know if it's working and there's an ROI? Where possible I would recommend an always on control segment so that measurement is possible, as an example: you decide to offer around the world cruises on your travel website homepage to Internet Explorer visitors as this is an activity popular with the elder generation. Instead of personalising to 100% of Internet Explorer visitors you would reduce the sample to let's say 90 or 95 percent with the remaining ratio receiving the default. This makes measurement possible, things change so this is why you'd want to be measuring all the time and not to assume after an initial successful test period that the personalisation will work forever. Microsoft's new browser, codenamed "Project Spartan" could be a huge success and steal back market share from Chrome which would play havoc on your age based boat cruise personalisation.

Right, that's it - thanks for reading. If you have any comments, questions or feedback please leave them below. And you can follow new posts on Twitter, Email or RSS.