Knowing Your Customers: The Art of Real-Time Personalization

Seventy-four percent of consumers feel increasingly frustrated when the content of a website they are visiting does not address their needs. The idea of a one-size-fits-all approach to website design and marketing has begun to come crashing down.

Consumers now live in an age where they expect companies to provide them with the information they seek and they expect it quickly. Jason Tabeling recently wrote about how the power of personalization is changing how people perform searches and the results that are displayed to them. For websites to remain relevant, they must be able to leverage this technology as well. Real-time personalization gives organizations the power to create that individualized experience for customers. This experience will be rooted in answering consumer questions and moving them through the sales funnel. This will improve the user experience and the site’s reputation.

The Real-Time Personalization Benefits for Search

As Google focuses increasingly on the quality of the content produced, it looks to see how customers interact with the website. We have found that “dwell time,” or the time that people spend on a website, might be one of the most overlooked ranking factors. Dwell time ideally looks not only at the amount time spent on a website, but also factors in bounce rates and click-through rates. It wants to understand how people are interacting with the site’s content and whether or not they find the information helpful.

Real-time personalization boosts customer engagement, as the content provides them with a more individualized experience. The site anticipates the content needs and preferences of the customer based upon their past actions on the site and uses this to adapt to the user. This will help to improve the user experience, and therefore boost engagement with the site and conversion. Relevance and engagement will positively impact the site’s search ranking.

6 Steps to Creating the Real-Time Personalization Experience

If you are interested in improving the user experience – and your rankings – by creating the real-time personalization experience, you will need to follow these steps.

  1. Identify in-depth buyer personas
  2. Develop content that would appeal to each buyer persona
  3. Use a big data processing program to understand who the visitor is and what they want
  4. Build a site that responds to broad categories the visitor falls into (such as location or the channel they arrived from)
  5. Use machine learning to customize to the individual
  6. Customization beyond the website

Here is how to make it a reality.

Building Personas

personas-personalization

Building personas requires companies to have an intimate understanding of who exactly their customers are. It is worth noting that for many organizations, there is a difference between who the business believes to be their customers to be and to whom they actually end up selling.

Uncovering buyer personas requires organizations to take a close look at their current customers and compile research on their intended market. You should speak directly with your customers to learn about what motivated them to purchase and why they chose your company.

You can also use surveys, studies, and other types of analytical information to understand who the customers are and what they seek. According to ITSMA, 85 percent of B2B marketers do not believe that they are using personas effectively, yet this step is critical to successfully engaging customers with real-time personalization.

  • Create personas based upon genuine research – do not rely on assumptions, they are often inaccurate
  • Make the personas feel like a real person – give them a name and even a photo
  • Understand the persona’s pain points – knowing what motivates buyers is key to creating the user experience that will help them the most
  • Focus on the people behind the persona and not the company they work for – even B2B professionals do not sell to a company, you are selling to a person

Developing Content for the Personas

Once you have your personas in hand, you can then begin to develop content and site features that will appeal most to a particular experience. Consider factors such as:

  • The types of products to be emphasized
  • The information and content: text, images, design, call to action

Your content should focus on providing information and products that the personas will find most helpful. A stay-at-home mom will generally have different priorities when buying cleaning supplies than a woman who runs a small restaurant. You should have content developed for each buyer persona for each stage of their buyer’s journey – when they first become aware of their problem, as they research solutions, and as they decide with whom they will do business. The content should guide them through the sales funnel.

Using Big Data to Understand the Visitor

big-data-personas

As a customer interacts with a website, big data and machine learning can give the site a very clear picture of what the person seeks. Some of the information will be voluntarily offered, such as their name and that of their company, while other data can be gathered through website movements, such as the pages viewed and searches performed.

There are a number of companies that can help companies track an individual’s movements on the website to develop personalized pages. Use the profile gathered from this data to predict what the user will find useful and respond to.

To effectively create a unique user experience, you must be able to understand the customer’s journey and how they use your website. As you combine your personas with the vast amount of data that can be gathered from visitor behavior, you will have hundreds or even thousands of profiles. Only machines can accurately interpret these different results and display the correct content to an individual to improve the user experience. This is why machine learning has such a critical role in the creation of real-time personalization and improving the user experience.

Using Broad User Categories

The real-time personalization experience will ideally take place on several different levels. You can make your website adapt to the customer’s experience on a surface level by using features such as:

  • Geo-targeting – where your message, offers, and information are particularly relevant to the location from which the visitor is accessing your site
  • Weather – particular industries, such as retail, may have success when they adapt their offerings according to the weather that the visitor is experiencing
  • Season/Holidays – tailoring messages based upon the season and holidays that might be motivating customers
  • Channel – adjust messages based on what channel people arrive from, like organic search, paid search, PR article, direct response ad, etc.

This information can then be combined with the profiles created for the personas to determine the type of content that will best speak to the user as they navigate the site. For example, a company that donated a considerable amount of time and resources helping the East Coast rebuild after Hurricane Sandy might have content related to that effort appear more prominently for those arriving from impacted areas.

The Individualization of the Site

site-pages-individualization

Once you have established a site that responds to the broader categories the user falls into, it is then time to make the remaining content completely customized to the individual. A retail site might emphasize products that the user examined in the past or that are related to products they have purchased. Netflix is an outstanding example of this. They not only remember the shows the user has viewed, but based on the ratings they also use big data to accurately recommend movies and shows based on taste profiles and this improves utilization and retention. Last year Jessica Lee profiled the new BloomReach SNAP Tool, demonstrating the power that this technology can have for e-commerce and helping sites improve the user experience.

Another site might remember the types of information the visitor was interested in or placed in the shopping cart and use it to display different calls to action or offers based on where the persona is in their buyer’s journey. The site should work to predict what the customer is looking for and help them easily find it.

The Real-Time Personal Experience Beyond the Website

The real-time experience should extend to all the interactions the person has with the brand. This includes emails that are triggered by certain actions on the website. By using the information gleaned from website interactions and forms that the user has filled out, emails sent to the page visitors should use segmentation and relevant content to speak to the customer needs.

Emails should automatically fill in key personal information, such as the person’s name and company name. The content of the email should focus on providing information that is useful for the person based upon their buyer persona and their action on the website. A first-time user who is a major decision-maker at their company, but has only read a few blog posts, will not likely respond to an email detailing pricing plans.

Providing page visitors with a personalized experience creates happy customers and higher conversion rates. When organizations take the time to produce individualized content, they see between a 19 percent and 21 percent increase in sales. Taking the time to leverage powerful buyer personas, using machine learning, and creating an ideal buying experience for site visitors can help companies improve the customer interaction and boost the bottom line.

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