Is web personalisation a trend or a pipe dream?

A simple, broad definition of web personalisation is content that changes based on user activity, preferences or location. It's exciting to think of the possibilities of this, which could help us get away from serving up generic, vague content that tries to appeal to too many people at once.

A simple, broad definition of web personalisation is content that changes based on user activity, preferences or location. It's exciting to think of the possibilities of this, which could help us get away from serving up generic, vague content that tries to appeal to too many people at once. It's an approach that cuts through the 'noise' online to send targeted, clear messages.

There is also a strong commercial case for personalisation because by providing an easy, valuable or pleasurable experience to users, brands can differentiate themselves from competitors who are selling the same products or services. Plus, putting customers first has become more and more of a priority over the last few years.

This, along with tracking customers across channels and devices, and sending a consistent message throughout, is becoming increasingly important to meet customers' rising expectations.

Sites like Netflix, Amazon, Etsy and Booking.com have set the bar for personalisation, where visitors view customised content based on their unique viewing history, past purchases, other viewers' ratings and social activity.

Caption: One of Netflix’s personalised features is Facebook integration

Caption: One of Netflix’s personalised features is Facebook integration

Personalisation is not all a bed of roses

The reality is that marrying datasets, tech infrastructures and operations, perhaps for the first time, is very complex and costly. As customer journeys become increasingly more differentiated and complex, coordinating conversations and measuring the ROI of these different channels can feel like an impossible task – and yet, measurability is a marketing imperative.

This hasn't deterred quite a few companies, though, who view it as an exciting opportunity to build stronger customer relationships and differentiate themselves from competitors in the coming years.

According to an Econsultancy study on 2015 digital trends, some organisations have spent the past couple of years pulling together their resources, and the next step is to execute this massive strategy i.e. across marketing channels, devices, data etc. to deliver a consistent message.

“Personalisation depends on technology, but it is human insight that moves it beyond the algorithms relating products and people. Great personalisation can be fundamental to relevance, while bad personalisation feels intrusive and unnecessary.” (Econsultancy)

This touches on one of the most critical challenges for large companies: a customer's experience is made up of a blend of different aspects so that a decision made in one department or channel can have a knock-on effect for all.

Focusing on the customer requires something of a paradigm shift, since getting hundreds or thousands of employees to realign their thinking so that the customer-centric approach is consistent is not just a button you can turn on or off.

Amazon uses real time bidding to target ads based on a customer’s recent online behaviour

Amazon uses real time bidding to target ads based on a customer’s recent online behaviour

Building a brilliant customer experience

Personalisation sets us apart, cuts through clutter, and at the risk of sounding whimsical, provides a company with a unified goal to strive for (a vision, if you like). This requires not just the buy-in of a small group of stakeholders, but the input of a wider audience of employees, partners, and more. So this is not just a marketing initiative, it traverses multiple areas of a business including finance, customer service, sales and management. The reality is that it's a tough and time-consuming task to change internal operational structures.

Another key part of personalisation is the way that businesses are now thinking of reaching customers throughout their journeys rather than in a particular marketing silo.

The majority of Econsultancy survey respondents believe that to deliver an excellent customer experience, "the cohesive plan, long-term view and executive support for the future of our customer", is the priority.

"The challenge is for organisations worldwide to create memorable experiences that also make a difference to the bottom line."

What do you think: is personalisation a useful, but challenging, strategy for brands to differentiate themselves online? What are the biggest obstacles standing in the way?