Personalization is a concept open to wide interpretation – its meaning seems to be, well, personal. One man’s integrated marketing is another man’s personalized customer experience. But at heart, personalization is about persons. And this is why the customer profile is, or should be, at the heart of anything calling itself a personalization solution.
Here are four questions you can use to evaluate the customer profile capabilities of any personalization solution.
1. What data does the solution contribute to your customer profiles? For example, does it create segments based on customer context or actions or social data? Is the profile persistent across sessions and devices?
2. How is data created by the solution made accessible to other systems? or, Where and how is solution’s customer profile data stored? For example, if the solution models customer behavior to make predictions that are potentially useful for marketing campaigns, marketing automation tools need access to that data.
3. What customer data is used by the solution? Does it use current behavior, past behavior, order history, personal preferences, segmentation, third party data, social network data? Is the solution designed to accept and use any data you feel is useful?
4. What control does the solution give to customers over the use of their profile? Can they opt out of tracking, or constrain the use of their social data, or request anonymity at times?
On May 13, RichRelevance acquired Avail. This is very good news for RichRelevance. The combined company is now global, with customers in 29 countries. It is Numero Uno for personalization solutions in Internet Retailer’s rankings for USA and Europe.
RichRelevance, founded 2006, is the leader in North American retail, serving a billion recommendations a day. Avail, founded in 2001, is the leader in Europe and the most mature recommendations provider. In recent years, Avail has been represented in the USA by partners such as Venda, while RichRelevance has opened offices in the UK, France and Germany.
Breaking into each others’ markets is a tough challenge that requires very different resources. In Europe, word of mouth is key to success: customers want to hear from someone in their country that a solution has been successful. US companies are viewed with considera-ble skepticism. In the USA, relentless marketing campaigns are de rigueur in getting customers’ attention and convincing them you have the resources to succeed. A US marketing budget is unbelievable to Europeans, resulting in an emotional and financial barrier that is difficult to breach. I was aghast to hear one CMO say, “We don’t need marketing, we have great technology.” His US launch was, no surprise, a total failure.
The acquisition of Avail gives RichRelevance the European relationships it needs. “This acquisition rounds out our ability to support the complete topography of our retail partners’ needs in the EU and across the globe.” said David Selinger, chief executive of RichRelevance.
The companies have similar offerings for retailers, providing recommendations across multiple touchpoints, ad placement, and targeted advertising to site visitors. The move into targeted advertising, which enables retailers to monetize non-converting traffic by selling ad impressions, is recent for Avail.
While the offerings are similar, there are important technical differences. Online European retailers often operate in multiple countries, creating a host of requirements that a US solution doesn’t need to address. In addition to managing recommendations across languages and currencies, there are complex shipping costs and regulations which impact how recommendations should be selected in various markets. Controlling the behavior of recommendations across multiple sites really requires a hierarchy of rules and overrides: global rules that apply to all sites; rules that apply within a country; rules that apply to a site; rules that apply to an international segment, etc. Avail makes it easy for customers to take control with minimum cost and risk. In addition, Avail was the first to pair people with similar interests for BazaarVoice, and is unique in supporting both collaborative and syndicated merchandising. So there is useful technology for RichRelevance to incorporate, when it tackles the technology merger of the two companies.
The impact on customers is as usual in an acquisition: Avail’s customers will worry (midst ardent reassurance from RichRelevance) about continuity of support for their retailing efforts. As is usual, key talent will leak out of Avail and RichRelevance will backfill as finance and available talent allow. On the plus side, RichRelevance is now an even larger and theoretically stronger company and thus in better position to support customers.
The impact on the market is to again reduce the pool of talent and technology, and make it yet more difficult for smaller companies to thrive. Recent mergers include PredictiveIntent by Emailvision, Fredhopper by SDL, iGoDigital by ExactTarget demonstrate the attraction of the technology and expertise, as well as the challenge of achieving financial stability.
I had the opportunity this weekend to listen as customers encountered a newly personalized customer experience. Each customer was presented with a web page of content entirely selected based on his or her profile. When asked if they valued the News email they received, the answer was no, it is so rarely relevant it’s not worth the trouble to open. When asked if they valued a News tab on their personal page, the answer was no, the News will be the same irrelevant stuff delivered by email.
But when confronted by personalized News, the reaction was…
“Wow, this is great! This is really useful information!”
Marketers believe, or desperately want to believe, that the privacy downside of targeted content is redeemed by the upside of the improved customer experience.
I’ve just watched proof that customers can agree with that viewpoint.
But the question remains: is your content selection good enough to delight your customers? How do you know?
What approach to personalization will improve your customer experience?
Which of these customer experience improvements contribute to your business goals?
How will all the effected parts of the company summon the will and resources to change?
On April 24, Adobe trumpeted a new feature of Adobe Social to further personalize the customer experience. Adobe Social is now able to recommend content that will best engage a Facebook visitor, using predictions based on sentiment analysis and text mining. The recommendations select the content as well as the timing of its delivery.
The feature is currently in beta, and is expected to be generally released in a few months. Additional social platforms will be supported in the future.
I’m all in favor of anything that improves the quality of my customer experience. The new Adobe Social feature promises an incremental improvement to my Facebook moments, which have been trending sharply downward recently. (It’s not so much the ads as the evident decline in FB activity from all my friends. A case of “been there, done that?”) Perhaps you digital marketing wizards will offer content compelling enough to bring me back.
For marketers, the Adobe Social feature provides the tools to improve their results as well as the data to track progress. Success will be less of a crapshoot when the content and its timing are selected based on analysis rather than guess.
I look forward to the day when the whole process is automated, and marketers can trust their tools enough to step back and watch the dance.
Personalization in B2B is more complex than in B2C, and potentially even more rewarding.
It is more complex because there are more people involved, and the relevant information is broader. The potential rewards are greater than B2C because the relationships tend to last longer and involve more revenue.
Relationships are deeper because they are expensive to establish and maintain. In the past two decades, reducing the number of supplier relationships has become a common process, and a key tactic for reducing costs. Each of the relationships is thus more valuable, and there is inherent stickiness. Replacing a supplier is expensive. Having deeper relationships with fewer suppliers, buying more things from an existing supplier, is cost-effective even if an item has a lower price elsewhere.
But whereas the personalized retail experience involves lots of, “other people like you liked/viewed/bought this,” the personalized business person’s experience is more complicated.
I have heard hundreds of customers describe what they want from their suppliers: “Give me one web page that has everything about our relationship.” What my company has bought, and what warrantees apply, and what service contracts exist, and what the serial numbers are, and who I should call for field service, or training, or billing. What is on order, who ordered it, when is it coming. What have we contracted to buy, at what prices, in what quantity, in what timeframe. Its the relationship-at-a-glance page.
This relationship-at-a-glance page is simple in concept, but difficult to implement. In fact, based on the facial expressions of the suppliers hearing this request from their customers, it is nigh impossible. Here are some of the challenges:
*Identifying what products your company has bought and still owns. The supplier may have multiple order systems dues to acquisitions and geographic boundaries — and so may the customer. Such records can be incomplete and inaccurate, a problem that can be handled (awkwardly and slowly) by personnel, but only confused and escalated by the supplier’s computer systems.
*Identifying relevant warrantees and service contracts. Including those in process of renewal. Warranteeing the inaccurate and incomplete list of products produced by the supplier’s computer systems.
*Identifying the appropriate employees and partners who support all the aspects of the relationship.
*Identifying who you are, and which information should be available to you.
*Providing access, via a single log-in, across multiple systems and applications in order to deliver the information and services a user needs.
*Providing a system for someone at your company to manage user permissions to your company’s relationship data. Does an engineer get to see all the orders, or just the orders related to her work?
*Managing password resets. Providing support for understanding the relationship-at-a-glance page, and using the supplier’s myriad applications.
Addressing these challenges is expensive. It is a long journey, with huge efforts on the supplier’s part producing small improvements for the customer. The situation is so overwhelming that many suppliers respond by kicking the can down the road: we can’t fix it this year, maybe we’ll have the money/time/skills/motivation/focus next year. I’m sympathetic.
But customers are not so sympathetic. They need the relationship-at-a-glance page to do their jobs efficiently. Every company has stripped its workforce to the bare bones during this century, and this means that neither the customer nor the supplier has the people resources to build spreadsheets of historic data and painstakingly investigate the validity of each entry.
On the plus side, the relationship-at-a-glance page provides strong motivation for customers to log in and identify themselves, thus enabling marketers to deliver relevant messages and collect more customer information. Will these marketing benefits produce enough revenue to offset the costs of implementing the relationship-at-a-glance page? In some cases, undoubtedly. But I don’t think suppliers really have a choice. The personalized relationship-at-a-glance page is the new baseline for supplier relationships.
As a consultant and researcher in personalization, I have a vested interest in asserting that personalization has immense value to an organization.
But flabby assertions don’t help you understand what to invest, or the return on existing in-vestments, or progress toward a goal, or setting the goal to begin with.
The leaders in personalization measure, track, and report results of personalization efforts. The challenges in doing so are both technical and mathematical.
Continuous multivariate testing efforts, which compare different approaches, discover and measure the optimum techniques deployed for personalization. The technical challenges are in deploying the various alternatives: identifying the best segment to experience each variant: cor-rectly assigning each visitor to a segment; and tracking, analyzing and reporting the results.
The mathematical challenge is evaluating the results of continuous optimization.
The so-called winner of each test is in turn nested into approaches that are tested and com-pared. After a year of continuous improvement efforts, how should the impact be calculated? Today’s revenue compared to one year ago? You’ll get a lot of argument on that one. Too many other factors: the sales team, brand marketing, the economy, competition, the weather, world events.
Successful personalization programs solve this puzzle by developing models that estimate impact and assign value. The models consider trends in the influencing factors, as well as actual visitor activity, extrapolating on where revenue (or other goals) would be with and without the program efforts.
Of course, models should always be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. While the algorithms may be sophisticated, the results can’t be terribly accurate. It’s a guess, not a measurement. But whatever the accuracy, having a consistent valuation method helps an organization proceed with its efforts and investments. Leaders in this arena have no difficulty justifying continued, and increased, investment in personalization.