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How To Build a Successful Personalization Team

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

Building great digital experiences, as with everything else, begins with the builders. While an individual may produce a masterpiece alone, most great achievements are the result of skilled individuals working together as a team. Successfully building and delivering personalized experiences on the web or anywhere else is no exception to this rule, and it is rare to find one person who can achieve this independently. For this reason, organizations who wish to create relevant personalized experiences for their customers must first establish the right team.

Since personalization involves multiple departments within an organization, key people from different areas of the business with various skill sets are needed to make up the personalization team. The exact makeup of this team will vary from organization to organization, and even from project to project, but many similarities and best practices already exist.

The best way to start building your personalization team is to break down personalization efforts by skill set: creative, data analysis, and technical.

Creative

Before personalized experiences became the standard, content was created to be as generalized as possible. It was an accepted practice to have every single person experience a website in the exact same way. However, this no longer meets customer expectations. With the availability of personalization tools that serve up unique content based on segmentation, there is a continuous need for targeted content. Depending on how ambitious your personalization goals are, you may find a need for a lot of new content.

To meet this immense demand for tailored content, you will need to consider putting individuals on the personalization team who are in tune with messaging and positioning and can produce copy, creative assets, and other forms of multimedia (photos, video, etc.). These team members will create variations of a piece of content for a given segment. These variations will be used in A/B tests to find the best variation and to learn more about a particular segment. The ability to experiment with new content allows for creativity within the team to flow more freely and experiences to improve over time.

Data Analysis

While creating content for personalized experiences is important, collecting, analyzing and utilizing data can make or break your personalization efforts. Personalization teams are inundated with data through not only traditional analytics tools, but also personalization-specific tools. These personalization tools generate data around customer segments, content engagement and audience trends. The responsibilities of the analytical part of the team include discovering new or underserved segments as well as analyzing the results of personalization efforts to accurately determine their effectiveness. Having an analyst or data scientist as part of the team can provide invaluable insights into optimal journey paths and content, which can help the team prioritize activity.

Technical

Once the content has been created and a determination has been made about what to show and who to show it to, the next step is the technical implementation. Depending on what personalization tools are in place and what experiences are being created, technical team members may vary from someone who has a solid understanding of the personalization software to a developer who builds custom functionality.

The Personalization Owner

Once you have a team and technology in place, you will find no end to the flow of ideas. Every touch point within a customer journey can be optimized and personalized. Your customer base can be segmented across hundreds of dimensions and the team’s time can be spent in a near infinite number of ways. All of this requires that the team’s priorities are well managed so that their energy is focused in the right areas. We call the individual responsible for this organization the personalization owner.

The personalization owner may come from any number of backgrounds including management, marketing or IT. The key element to this role is not management per se, but rather ownership of success in personalization. If all other work within personalization gets outsourced, this is the one person who should be sitting within the organization and ideally dedicated to personalization full time. Harvard Business Review, in a play on the role of Product Manager within software development, similarly refers to the “"Journey Manager” as the central figure in a customer journey-focused “scrum team.” The personalization owner works to understand the priorities of the team and help to decide what should be done first, second and perhaps last or never. Extending the analogy within the software world, the personalization owner can be compared to the product owner on agile teams who is “responsible for defining and prioritizing” the work that needs to be done (referred to as a “backlog” in the agile methodology).

Cross-Functional Teams

As much as possible, the personalization team should be cross-functional and autonomous. This means that they have both the technical and creative abilities as well as the authority to improve personalized experiences without getting blocked by competing priorities within other departments.

Departments that may be part of the personalization team include IT, demand generation, marketing operations, content marketing, and creative. In the November 2015 Harvard Business Review article “Competing on Customer Journeys,” this team is “execution-oriented, fast, and agile, constantly testing and iterating improvements. Collectively, the team members work to understand customers’ wants and needs at each step of the journey and make taking the next step worthwhile.”

While moving all of the right people into a new department or business unit for these purposes might be ideal, it is certainly not necessary. Think of this team as a task-force for this project. Some of the individuals will be full-time while others are part-time. The important part is that they meet together regularly and function as one unit, ensuring that everyone has what they need when they need it in order to deliver real value at regular intervals to your customers. The technology and process do not matter if you don’t have the right people in place or if you don’t have resources dedicated to doing personalization.

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