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You've read all the articles and blogs expounding on one-to-one marketing and using Big Data to understand your customer. You’ve wrapped your head around the array of tools available to help you deliver that experience. You’ve brought various stakeholders into the loop and identified the many ways you can significantly improve your relationship with online customers.

It's at this point that you realize there will be a considerable investment of time, money and strategic planning needed to bring this "personalization engine" to life. I call it an "engine" because personalization is not simply a "marketing tactic" or "initiative" but a (more or less) complex set of moving parts that can drive customer loyalty when working together in harmony.

Jumping into any unknown territory is challenging, and truly, so much really is unknown at the early stages of implementing anything with the potential to disrupt traditional marketing tactics. The fact there is so much evolution in the Big Data and Personalization space makes life that much more uncertain for marketers looking to make the jump, confident their choices will stand the test of time.

Having built personalization into sophisticated travel loyalty solutions for financial institutions and other entities, we've helped many (understandably) cautious clients overcome this fear of the unknown and address issues that arise around the concept of web personalization. We've also had to overcome some challenges of our own.

Whether you're jumping onto the website personalization bandwagon as an organization or working with a partner in building a personalized eCommerce platform, we hope this article will share some of the key considerations you can preemptively attack before you get too far down the road.

(1) Create Your Roadmap

Every website visitor likes to see their name on the website page — it says "We Know You" — and pre-filling some preferences into a lengthy online form is always a welcome timesaver for the user. These are clear use cases for web personalization tools, but they hardly live up to the promise of a revolutionary change to your marketing strategy.

The real power of a personalization engine lies in its power to transform your organization and its ability to meet the growing expectations of your customers, namely to engage them with contextually relevant content, to anticipate their needs, and guide them to transact.

But with no shortage of projects you can tackle with your personalization engine — projects that may have previously been out of reach for lack of resources or organizational focus — it's all too easy to jump in and start doing while losing sight of the bigger end-goal of transforming.

So what does "transformation" mean for your organization? Defining key milestones and measurable objectives of you personalization strategy is critical. Are you looking to create channel stickiness for certain customer segments, increase product adoption across customer base, or curate performance in a state or region? Knowing your pain points, benchmarks and desired outcomes from the start helps to wade through the seemingly endless possibilities of a target-rich personalization strategy.

(2) Get Your Legal House In Order

One of the most attractive aspects of a personalization engine is the ability to collect and analyze user interaction on your website, not just in an anonymized, aggregated way but on the individual named user level. The underlying objective is to build a "profile" on each individual customer consisting of product affinities, preferences, geolocation and much more. You could potentially record every form submission, every button clicked, and every screen swipe.

While there are plenty of unknowns around a customer's preferences and product affinities, surely there will come a time when you'll need certain data points to gain insight into some user characteristic you have yet to identify. So just collect everything and ask questions later, right?

From a legal standpoint, you’ll probably need to rethink this approach and evaluate what data you absolutely need to collect and store, and whether it might be considered "PII."

For a financial institution, there are often specific definitions of what constitutes "PII" data, and this could even be the storage of just a few collective data points like email address, name and address. While you may not be subject to the level of data security required of financial institutions, you'll need to consider your organization's data security policies before you store certain information.

Financial institutions are also well-acquainted with the disclosure requirements of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), especially around the introduction of web cookies and the collection of account-level "NPI" data (non-public information). This may trigger the requirement for a new round of disclosures and even direct customer acceptance if the existing privacy policy doesn't already accommodate such forms of data collection. (Note: not every implementation will, or should, rely on web cookies, especially if the personalization experience is to extend across devices.)

The bottom line is you may need to consider limiting the type of information you collect as part of the user's "profile." You might successfully circumvent some issues by manipulating how that data is stored. For example, "salting and hashing" algorithms may adequately disguise critical data used for unique identification purposes without compromising the capabilities of your personalization engine.

(3) Analytics and Insights

Another powerful feature of a solid personalization engine is the ability to easily conduct A/B and multivariate tests. The objective is to simplify the user experience and reduce friction by removing impediments to transaction flow; however, the challenge is identifying where to focus your attention in the user experience.

Here's where an alternative analytics solution may help immensely. Google Analytics is certainly a must-use tool for most organizations, but as powerful as it is, there are other analytics tools that may serve as a better compliment to your personalization engine (and to Google Analytics itself).

While you can configure Google Analytics to drill down to data on the individual user level, it's not easy to do and there are limitations. In particular, you'll need to define the specific data point you'd like to collect, code the website page to pass that data, and wait for some time to pass before you've collected enough data to make an informed and statistically relevant assessment. Properly configuring Google Tag Manager can help alleviate this.

We found a SaaS product called Heap Analytics to be a useful resource in this regard, though there are other analytics solutions to consider. Something we love about Heap is the fact that nearly every interaction on the website page is (anonymously) recorded without our having to define it up-front and code for it — and we can drill down to the individual user level if need be.

On a practical level, this retrospective reporting capability is invaluable. Six months after product launch when we want to assess usage of a particular website feature (or if the client asks for this data), we will have already collected six months of data before the need for it even arose. We can then use our findings to make truly informed enhancements to the user interface, or to identify where we wish to conduct A/B tests for further investigation.

This level of reporting can also be of huge value to QA teams in discovering specific points of failure through transaction funnels across various devices, operating systems and browser types.

Putting It All Together

The prospect of deeper insight into your online customers and gaining their increased engagement is not just enticing but truly essential in eCommerce today. For some organizations, website personalization can be quite a jump. Behind the scenes of any effective implementation is a set of tools, processes and strategic plans that do not come without a cost in terms of time and resources. But with some advance planning and guidance, you can more easily direct your efforts to transforming your online shopping experience into something your customers have come to expect from a modern user experience.

Want a fresh, cutting-edge perspective on your marketing?

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