You’re already publishing blog posts that answer the questions customers have at various stages of the buyer’s journey. You already have a website. You may even have a marketing automation system that helps you manage and nurture leads. But what you probably don’t have is a way to offer your customers more of a personal touch.
This is the next frontier for digital marketing – personalization technology. With the implementation of online social media and more integrated websites, we've shifted from highly personalized interactions (phone, one-on-one transactions) to the supremely impersonal (email e-commerce).
It's no surprise that we've now found new ways to personalize those seemingly "impersonal" online interactions. In 2015, Gartner Research identified personalization as one of the key trends to follow in digital marketing over the next 2 to 5 years, describing it as the product of a “yearning for 1:1 customer relationships.” Also in 2015, Forrester Research published the results of a survey that identified one common goal for businesses seeking greater personalization of their web marketing: enhanced customer centricity and engagement.
But the Forrester report also reveals two central challenges to personalization initiatives:
- The rapidly growing roster of potential touchpoints makes personalizing experiences on any of them a constant struggle.
- The growing number of marketing channels and the increasing volume of data make it difficult to place customers in their proper contexts.
Marketers and web developers get lost in what they should personalize, how to target the right audience, and where they should start.
New Technologies to Meet the Personalization Challenges
The issue, then, is certainly not that new technologies don't have what marketers need. The range of personalization tools spans across various tailored techniques (this is just a taste of the options available):
- Stage-specific Calls-to-Action (smart CTAs) on marketing automation platforms
- Geolocation prompts on mobile apps
- New site visitor targeting versus returning customers
- Customized reporting based on predicted and observed response behavior
If you're a marketing pro, options like these give you endless possibilities. Still, we often find that there are too many options to implement in a feasible timeline and too many platforms to choose from.
To address Forrester's two central challenges, you need a way to both pull data from an array of touchpoints—LinkedIn, blog posts, landing pages on your website—and use that data to provide individualized experiences to users.
Focusing on website CMSs, you have options like Target by Adobe and Sitefinity’s Digital Experience Cloud that use visitor profiles and click-scoring to build up a store of customer intelligence data, which can then be transferred to your CMS. This makes it possible for the CMS to present each visitor with personalized content, or entire personalized pages. This approach is also being adopted by newcomers to the market like Lytics Personalization.
Here's a quick rundown of the features we found on each website:
- Individual Visitor Targeting
- Real-time insight
- Self-learning target engine
- Visual personalization
- Customized machine learning algorithm
- A/B Testing
- Server-to-Server Integration with Adobe Analytics
- Customer journey database
- Integration from CRM, WCM, and marketing automation
- Online and offline interaction tracking
- Conversion tracking
- Aligns with lead scoring and persona profiling
- Customer journey optimization
- Machine learning for optimization recommendations
- Comprehensive customer profile
- Personalized messaging
- Predictive intelligence
- Machine learning conversion and retention
- Tailored web properties
- Content customized to behavior, interests, predictive scoring
- Behavior-based audience segments
How to Choose
While these showcased features may sound different, all these tracking, profiling, and click-scoring tools are really similar in the way they work. Adobe promises that Target can automate the rules for identifying different visitor personas. But this automated rule-forming feature isn’t part of the standard edition, and your site would have to be large and complex—and get really high traffic—for that to be useful.
By and large, you’ll look in vain for significant differentiators in the feature lists of the various providers. Some boast more user-friendliness for non-coders (Lytics). Some are easier to integrate with other systems (the Sitefinity DEC). But the core functionality, at least for now, is roughly the same. There’s actually much more variability between each provider’s own licensing categories than between each of their basic offerings.
(A possible exception of particular interest to ecommerce companies is Lytics’ Content Affinity Engine, which offers visitors suggestions based on their preferences, much like Netflix does.)
What about Cost?
Many companies in the tech industry haven’t gotten the memo that their products are designed to empower consumers to make decisions without the help of salespeople. Whenever you try to find pricing information on one of the personalization product websites, you end up with a button saying, “Request a demo,” leaving you still wishing you had a price range to start with.
But there is some pricing information available. The basic plan for Lytics Personalization, for instance, is $5,000 a month. My secret sources tell me that’s a little higher than what you’d pay for the Advanced Edition of Sitefinity’s Digital Experience Cloud, after you’ve factored in the relevant add-ons. From what I’ve been able to glean, it seems that when you line up comparable licenses and matching features, the costs of all your options are very similar.
So How Do You Decide?
Same basic functionality, features basically the same, and costs very similar. I know, this doesn’t help at all, right? If these factors can’t help you decide, which ones should you use?
There are at least four things you absolutely need to consider. Let’s take them step-by-step.
- Figure out what your goals are. What are you hoping to accomplish by adopting web personalization tools?
- Make sure you understand how the tools actually work, including how you plan to make them work for you.
- Consider your options. While this step is a little more complicated, determine the best choice in the context of your goals and the other technologies in your stack.
- Ask yourself which is best for your developers. If your developers want to use one provider’s tool instead of another’s, it doesn’t make much difference to the outcome, especially when the prices are so close.
So for example, if your goals are greater visitor engagement and increased sales with the most intuitive interface for non-technical users, you probably want to check out Lytics.
Or you may be a large enterprise and need to integrate your CMS and associated technologies with several other tools built on ASP.NET. Then you might lean toward the Sitefinity DEC.
Lack of differentiation is a common theme for CMSs in general. I’ve spent quite a bit a time looking at feature-comparison tables with mostly the same checkmarks in mostly the same rows, trying to find definitive differentiators, particularly for this blog post. After coming up dry again and again, I had a long conversation with our web development practice leader Andy Glassley. What he said, he assures me, applies to both CMSs and the personalization tools you use with them:
“Most businesses don’t really care what technology is on the backend. If you find a really good web developer, it doesn’t much matter which CMS they choose to work with—as long as the site ends up doing what you need it to do.”
Leaving the question, "What do you want your website to do?" In this case, the sky is the limit.
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