By Chris Haines
The most common pain point we hear from prospects and clients is that they want to personalize their customers’ journeys, starting with content, but they’re just not able to. The numbers bear this out. According to Forrester, “68% of firms state that delivering personalized experiences is a priority.” (1)
In the same report, I was surprised to note, Forrester says, “75% of digital experience delivery professionals personalize website content.”
Hold on. 75%? If that’s the case, where is all of this personalized content? If that many retailers are personalizing website content, why do they keep telling us that they can’t do it?
Forrester readily concedes that its sample size may be biased because they conduct research among people who read Forrester reports. But I suspect that something else is at play here. After doing a deep data analysis of 13 global home improvement retailers, which involved multiple product searches over several weeks—and not receiving a single personalized piece of content—I suspect that the people who answered the Forrester survey were talking about something different when they said that they’re personalizing content. They may be counting the automated Hi [your name here] message that appears when you return to a familiar website as “content”. Or, perhaps they’re blurring the line with email marketing, where personalized content is more common. But we’re just not finding it on websites.
When I say “personalized content” I’m talking about relevant content appearing based on something as simple as my browsing habits. After browsing washing machines, flooring and BBQs from home page to product detail page and hitting every page in between for eight weeks, you’d think that I’d get a prompt to read a washing machine buyer’s guide or a tutorial on laying floors or helpful grilling techniques. Not once. Even though the content existed on all of those sites. Which begs the question, why not?
Forrester suggests that successful personalization requires a “POST” approach—people, objectives, strategy and technology—which makes perfect sense to me. In the areas where Amplience plays—strategy and technology—we find that retailers are struggling to get their personalization strategies off the ground because they don’t have the right, purpose-built tools to create content once and publish it to multiple experiences. Most are working with content management systems that aren’t “headless,” in other words, the content data and its presentation layer are tied together so that content can’t be repurposed for multiple uses. Content as a Service (CaaS) systems like Amplience take a modular approach, which allows the same content to be displayed in multiple formats simultaneously. When we consider that “just 32% personalize mobile app content” the limits of legacy technologies start to make sense. How is a small production team supposed to customize content by personalized segment, journey and platform as well? In the old world, the workload is just too onerous to contemplate.
And that brings us to strategy. I think it’s fairly safe to say that (barring the occasional researcher like me) anyone who is browsing a major appliance is probably in the market for one, often as a “distress” purchase because they need to replace a broken one. On the main landing pages most retailers offered access to informational content like buyer’s guides, but none followed me as I browsed the site or when I returned in subsequent visits. I did receive plenty of product recommendations so the technology to deliver personalized experiences is there, but it’s not being used for content.
Since it’s not a technical obstacle, what is the strategic reason for this? I think—and Forrester suggests the same—that retailers have been too focused on who I am (male, age 50-60, New York resident) and not what I am (looking for washing machines).
There is so much data available out there that it’s easy to see why brands get lost in the details. But I’m far more than the sum of my demographics. And I’m not the same person today as I was yesterday. Or tomorrow. Once they get their technology stack in order, perhaps it’s time for ecommerce leaders to remember the most powerful weapon in sales: starting the conversation by asking the customer “What are you looking for today?”