From Empathy to Engagement: Planning the Personalization Journey

From Empathy to Engagement: Planning the Personalization Journey

When you’re focusing on data-driven personalization, how do you ensure that you’re paying attention to what really matters instead of getting caught up in nuances that are interesting but far less likely to move the needle?

According to Dave Sawyer, lead optimization strategist at FFW, taking an approach that uses the five pillars of personalization is the best way to organize your campaigns and build a strategic personalization strategy. Dave expanded on his thoughts at the recent Acquia Engage conference.

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“So, picture this: I’m in a room with a client. Big table, lots of people sitting around, stakeholders making decisions talking about data-driven personalization. I was listening to a moment in the conversation where the clients started talking amongst themselves and got stuck on a point about what should happen. What they didn’t know was that I came into the room having a done a little of my own research, and I’d asked a couple of (marketing-savvy) friends to go to client’s website and go through their web form process,” which fuels their personalization efforts.

What Sawyer’s colleagues found wasn’t good.

What he saw that day was something he and FFW have seen many times; clients were focusing on “potential” future personalization issues while completely ignoring the glaring problem happening right under their noses: Their personalization program was suffering because customers were pulling their hair out trying to fill out the web form.

Working together with the client, they were able to align their goal – aspirational personalization, or the ability to leverage all available data about a user to respond in real time to their interests and needs – with the five pillars of personalization as a framework for a successful personalization strategy.

The Five Pillars of Personalization

The Five Pillars of Personalization

Putting the customer or user at the center of the personalization journey is one of the best ways to keep the proper focus and avoid getting distracted by the plethora of technology tools that continues to grow and vie for marketers’ attention and dollars. And according to Sawyer, building a user-focused personalization strategy on the five pillars of personalization will “serve as a compass for how to derive the right kind of personalization strategy for your organization.”

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Pillar 1: User

When it comes to users, Sawyer reminds us, the important thing here is to not only define our target audience for our business in general but drilling down to understanding who the subset of users is that we’ll be able to deliver a personalized experience to-in essence, defining specifically who we want to reach and what we want them to do.

Sawyer cautions here that taking a one-size-fits-all approach and trying to optimize it to best fit groups of users is no substitute for the good, old-fashioned thing known as empathy. After all, he said, “Personalization is about delivering the most relevant experience in each person. Empathy is about understanding what the individual is feeling or he or she is experiencing and what his or her needs are. So to truly deliver personalized experiences and to deliver those experiences at each step of the user’s journey, you must arrive at an understanding of those users.”

Pillar 2: Content

Personalization needs content – and lots of it. It’s important you get your SEO and taxonomy right (not only for the subject matter but for the users) so that your content can be interpreted and delivered by machine solutions. Be empathetic to your users and understand the type of content that will best resonate with them and will suit their needs.

Pillar 3: Staffing

Personalization is inherently multidisciplinary, often pulling in people with radically different skill sets. “One of the key pieces of establishing a personalization strategy is mapping out how you will be able to hold these and all the related decisions together to make a creative process,” Sawyer said.

Pillar 4: Tech Stack

Although the phrase “tech stack” will call to mind different things for different marketers, according to Sawyer, your personalization tech stack should provide these fundamental capabilities:

  • The ability to maintaining unified customer profiles that track visitors from anonymous to known.
  • The ability to track custom interactions that those visitors were having onsite and then to persist those interaction data points into the same UCPs over time.
  • The capability to connect UCPs to other sources of customer data such as the customer data warehouse or other systems.
  • Configuration capabilities, including the ability to configure/target/segment arbitrary segments or subsets of your audience to visual target messaging; to establish content rules; and, to configure consent, privacy policy and opt-out options.
  • Analytics and reporting capabilities.

Pillar 5: Experimentation

Sawyer suggests taking an evidence-based approach to personalization, which encompasses not only data but also offline information, research, user interviews and other qualitative info to develop a holistic picture of the user.

“We want to find the kind of art rather than science, the right level of personalization. The name of the game is to monitor, evaluate and adjust as necessary, and that’s why this is experimental,” Sawyer said.

An Empathetic (and Effective) Approach

With all of the tech and data surrounding marketers every day, it’s easy to forget that there’s a living, breathing human being on the other side of that screen – and that human’s emotions are going to have a huge influence on how they engage with your business and whether they make a purchase.

As Sawyer told the audience at Engage, ensure you create and maintain compelling content that’s crafted to resonate with those users, and invest in the staff and tech that facilitate those conversations. And remember that you need to test and iterate; you won’t be able to just deploy a personalization capability and be done.

By embracing the idea that personalization is inherently experimental, iterative and evidence-based and being willing to learn from your mistakes, you’ll be well on your way toward creating more meaningful relationships and realizing better results from your efforts.

Reena Leone

Senior Manager, Content Marketing Acquia

Reena Leone has nearly 10 years of digital marketing experience, working for both digital agencies and global brands.

A self-described “writer, podcaster, cosplayer, and nerd,” she said her favorite aspect of working at Acquia is her collaboration with colleagues.

“When we say ‘#ilovemyteam,’ it's not a joke. This is the kind of place where you can be you; individuality is encouraged,” Leone said.

Since she started at Acquia, Leone has had the opportunity to forge her own career path, she said.

“This flexibility has made me more capable of handling any challenge thrown my way, and allowed me to grow my skills as a writer, editor, and manager.”