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Friday, Feb. 13, 2009 at 7:22 am

The Power of Persona-lization

By Bryan Eisenberg
February 13th, 2009

Personalization, done effectively, is a lot more than making product recommendations or using technology to welcome a visitor by name. Smart personalization is the process of providing more relevant content and offers to your visitors based on their preferences and behavior.

I call it persona-lization.

Thankfully, today’s technologies have come a long way from those that would recommend “customers who bought my book ‘Call to Action‘ should also buy clean underwear.”

Moving Beyond Demographics

For over a decade, I’ve been railing about demographics’ limited value. Just because your visitors fall into a certain demo doesn’t mean the same things motivate them. Demographics don’t reveal motivation.

Customers have individual needs and different reasons to buy. They’re at different stages of the buying process. Their motivations, largely driven by their unique personalities, are diverse. To maximize ROI (define), a personalization campaign must address and effectively bucket (or segment), then persuade a visitor based on this data as well. This go well beyond demographics.

One place where demographics can be used effectively with personalization technologies: shipping rates. There is an extreme difference in shipping costs for East Coast and West Coast customers; you can make each demographic a different shipping offer.

Hunting the Bargain Hunter

David Brussin, CEO of Monetate.com, describes a campaign involving client ModCloth, an online retailer:

    • 1,590% lift in conversion rate vs. control
    • 2,050% lift in new customer acquisition vs. control
    • 2,314% more revenue vs. control
  • ModCloth.com’s marketing team came up with the idea of incorporating a game into the sale, by giving customers the opportunity to “win” a discount on their purchase by finding a hidden creative somewhere in the sale catalog. Since this was a holiday promotion, they hit on the idea of using Rudolph as the hidden creative.

    The idea was to display a creative on a product page somewhere in the catalog, and once that creative has been seen by a customer affect a discount on their shopping cart at checkout for the rest of that visit.

    The results were compelling; customers who searched for Rudolph were committed to the purchase:

This personalization is especially exciting because it effectively targeted and engaged a very distinct persona preference type — the bargain hunter. This campaign went beyond just offering a bargain; it delighted this persona type by actually giving them a virtual hunt. Once this persona type actually hunted for a discount, it was unlikely they were going to abandon it. Many of them completed a transaction and likely told every one of their friends (another common bargain-hunter behavior).

Building a Meaningful Relationship

In these rough economic times, we’re all tempted to bend over backwards for bargain hunters (who isn’t looking for a bargain, right?), but you shouldn’t do it at the expense of the other buyer types.

One is the relational buyer, the relationship-focused decision maker. This persona type wants to build a relationship with those she purchases goods and services from. She wants to know who she’s buying from.

Jim Cain, senior analyst at Sitebrand, which develops personalization software for Web sites, tells the story of how the company reached out to relationship-focused customers:

    The Sitebrand team crafted a call to action simply saying “First Time Here? Click here to see our welcome page” and ran it in a banner that would be shown on the first page view of the visit, regardless of landing page.

    The welcome page itself, also built and optimized by Sitebrand, allowed their client, the CoffeeForLess.com team, the ability to write the equivalent of an “about us” page with copy designed specifically for this segment. There were no discounts or promotions included in this dialog, only the most relevant information for this unique visitor type and calls to action to help them start their shopping experience.

    In the four months this dialog has been live, the impact to conversion has been significant. In the month of January alone, this effort resulted in a 304% segment specific conversion lift, accounting for over 50,000 in incremental sales.

Taking the Offline Online

Let’s face it, a significant portion of our visitors simply don’t like computers or spending time online. These people aren’t luddites; they just live life away from their computers in the offline world. We call these shopping types the spontaneous buyers. This includes buyers with little patience on your site, visitors who won’t spend time searching and looking or who won’t wrestle with complex online tools and builders. So how do you deal with this type of persona? Improve the online experience not with bells and whistles but with actual help purchasing.

Online fragrance commerce site Scentiments was great at personalization offline, but it had to take it up a notch online. From Howard Wyner, CEO of Scentiments.com:

    While Scentiments has always emphasized a personalized approach in the stores — it even has an online and phone-based “Fragrance Guru” to answer specific questions from individual shoppers — we had not developed an in-house recommendation capability before then because we did not have the internal staff time or expertise to do so.

    Scentiments.com contracted with MyBuys.com to generate personalized product recommendations on its Website and to manage its email list to send personalized email alerts.

    We learned quickly to have more fulfillment staff on the job Wednesday afternoons and Thursdays, because the personalized email alerts go out on Wednesday. We always see a spike in sales on those days. The results are outstanding, Scentiments.com’s email open rate was 29%, click-through rate was 7.8%, and conversion rate was 16%. That level of personalization fosters loyalty and boosts sales.

While this isn’t a specific campaign, it is a concerted effort to emulate the offline shopping experience online. Your site should be good at doing what the best of your sales team does offline. After all, the best offline salesperson personalizes their pitch.

Getting Started With Personalization

While the vendors mentioned above are trusted colleagues and friends that I’d recommend, not everyone can afford these types of technologies and solutions. So if you are small or lack budget, or if you want to prove the personalization concept, there are free tools that will help you do just that.

If you want better insight into motivations and your site’s current ability to meet visitor expectations, free survey tool 4Q can give you some preliminary data to start segmenting customers based on behavior. BTBuckets is also a free tool for doing personalization by behavioral segments and targeting. Of course, Google Website Optimizer (GWO) will allow you to test your personalization efforts at no cost, and BTBuckets has even worked on an integration for using GWO.

Before this, however, you might want to create a few personas and create specific campaigns designed to speak to their most base motivations. Then create experiences that will exceed their expectations.

Tell us your personalization stories through the comments section below.

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Comments (12)

  1. It’s scary to think of all the extra effort that goes into things now that the economy is down. It’s not scary because we have to do it. It’s scary because we were all content with not doing it before. Now we know why our economy is this way. People don’t want to try unless there’s a coach with a whistle telling them to.

  2. [...] GrokDotCom discusses the power of persona-lization. [...]

  3. As a long time believer of personalization I’m glad to see any article or post evangelizing the practice but what’s really, really nice to see is someone discussing personalization beyond simple product comparisons.

    Despite having rich databases and advanced CRM tools it seems like most companies are still stuck in the rut of basic personalization without getting the benefits (maybe they just haven’t seen the amazing data behind the results?). Personalizing on any level is great but when you start using it to think about behavior and the user’s mindset like in your “Building a Meaningful Relationship” example it’s simply mind-blowing how well it can work.

    All sites would do well to stand back and think about their visitor personas, what data they need to capture (or see exhibited behaviorally) to bring people into those groups and how to best market to those groups and give it a shot. Whether it’s true experiences or just talking right good personalization is awesome. On the flip side however it’s vital not to make big mistakes… just last week a major brand emailed me with a subject starting with “Ladies:” of which I am not – talk about a relationship killer!

  4. One more follow up comment on what digital perfections said… It is scary that so many companies neglected great options like personalization in the boom but perhaps the one small upside of the down turn is that it’s forcing companies to get smarter, optimize more and let the truly innovative marketers who take the time to understand their customers excel. That is if there’s not too much fear stopping change.

  5. I agree that personalization is “the new white”.

    The user want to personalize everything they can to make there surfing experience better.

  6. Wow! Excellent ideas. It’s inspiring to hear the creative new approaches that businesses are taking to personalization.

  7. [...] Read about the power of persona-lization in action. [...]

  8. This is good information, that I was generally aware of, but it helps to get another perspective.

  9. This is excellent information!

    YourNetBiz

  10. All sites would do well to stand back and think about their visitor personas, what data they need to capture (or see exhibited behaviorally) to bring people into those groups and how to best market to those groups and give it a shot.

  11. [...] team over at Grokdotcom have a brilliant post aboutcreating and understanding personas to fully understand the vast chasms of differences between how people respond to language, imagery, [...]

  12. Nice article. There are quite a few different way to personalised peoples web experience, you can even set a different version of your web page to display depending on what country the visitor is from.

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Bryan Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark and Always Be Testing. You can friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

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