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Choosing the Right Framework for Your Personalization Ideas

This is part four of a five-part blog series on personalization.

If you’ve made it this far in the series, you should now have a personalization team, alignment on high level business goals and strategic initiatives, and a project that your team is planning to work on. On top of that, you’ve aligned on an approach to personalization that involves quick iteration and small, manageable tasks, which you may or may not refer to as “stories.”

Congratulations! If you’ve come this far then you are at least halfway to success, and you haven’t even begun personalizing yet!

The next step is coming up with ideas of what to personalize. Personalization ideas can touch many areas of the experiences you’re creating. You can focus on different audience segments. You can brainstorm ideas for content. You can focus on different areas of the marketing funnel. You can create a list of how to keep existing customers interested and coming back. Or you can start thinking about what metrics you want to pull first to better inform your decisions. Once your team has generated a few dozen, or even a few hundred ideas, you may find that it’s both challenging to organize them all, and that the pace of generating new ideas slows down some. This is where frameworks come in.

There are a few different frameworks that can be used to both generate and organize personalization and optimization ideas to help you stay on target. You can choose to use one or more of these, or find another that works best for you, but having a framework can make it far easier to keep the ideas flowing and organized.

The Mind Map

The idea is simple, and has been around for a long time: Start with what’s on your mind and write it in the center of a piece of paper (or on a whiteboard, or using software, etc. -- you get the idea), then write related things around it and draw lines between them. After the first round, draw more related ideas next to the new words and draw lines between those. The end result is you get things in your head onto paper and trigger some new parts of your brain while you’re at it, making you more creative and capturing the things you’ve been thinking about.

Mind Map

Admittedly, this isn’t truly a framework, but but it’s a good place to start if you have dozens of ideas floating around that have a natural structure to them. For personalization, they may take the form of segments, personalization rules, pages you want to personalize, and so on. If things start breaking into categories, try circling words with different colors or drawing different shapes around each.

If you’ve captured everything you were thinking but then run out of steam, that’s OK. If you’ve been staring at the paper for a few minutes without writing anything else down, walk away for a while. When you come back, go ahead and take those ideas and move them into your task/story collection software, adding additional ideas and more detail as you go.

The Matrix

Not the movie, the spreadsheet kind! In this exercise, you’re going to build a table with rows and columns. On the left column, in the rows, write down your top 3-5 segments. At the top of your columns, write down the journey stages that your customer is going to go through. It will look something like this:

Matrix Framework

You now have a bunch of blank cells that you can fill in with personalization ideas and research questions. If you’re a online consumer brand that sells home goods like rugs and throw pillows, what content should you show new homeowners who are at the evaluation stage? What should you show college students who may only be in the awareness stage? Write down your thoughts and capture those as before.

Now, you could do this exercise a lot of different ways, and that’s the point! You could try products of interest on the rows and segments in the columns, or geographic regions in the rows and traffic source in the columns. The point is that you want something that reflects a relevant and useful division between your types of customers. Ideally that division is based on the data you already have before starting this exercise, but feel free to try this several times with several different dimensions.

If you want to get crazy, you could even try doing this exercise in a 3 dimensional spreadsheet.

The Customer Journey Map

If you need a more advanced framework, a customer journey map might do the trick. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a customer journey map is a research guided tool that helps you capture gobs of information on different types of customers, including journey stages, activities, motivations, questions, barriers and much more. It is well beyond the scope of this article to talk about all the details, so here are a couple examples:

Once you have a set of customer journey maps in place, the tie-in to personalization becomes fairly obvious: How are you going to help these customers along their journey? Chances are, there are a number of stages where directing them to the right content for their journey stage is going to be incredibly helpful for them. Now all you need to do is capture tasks and stories that help to make that journey simpler and more engaging to your customer.


Once all of these ideas are captured and catalogued, they go into the backlog and go through your prioritization process. You can start with a single method and go to the next one a few weeks later, or you can continue to revisit these techniques every few weeks or months to generate new ideas each time.

These are not the only places your ideas will come from of course. It is a great idea to have a clear feedback mechanism within your organization so that anyone else can provide their ideas as they come up. You should also capture ideas as you go through your day to day work, as you look at data and review the results of past personalizations, and any other time when the idea strikes you. Keep in mind, capturing an idea doesn’t mean you’ll always do it. The point is to get a lot of ideas down when you’re feeling creative so that you can use them and iterate quickly, and learn what works and what doesn’t.

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