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There was a time when the average person would not use their real name on the internet. Coming up with a clever username was an art. It involved combining your hobby with your gender and the year we were born or graduated (skaterboy88 or soccerchic91). In the early days of the internet, the idea of a website greeting you by name, or remembering your information was “scary.”

Today things have certainly changed. Not only do we expect a website to remember our password and greet us by name, we expect everything we interact with to make recommendations on stuff we find important at any given time. This is called “Personalization Strategy.”

A personalization strategy is a framework for anticipating the needs of the customer before they realize their own needs. Personalization is about reducing the number of steps it takes to complete a task to improve the experience. The goal of personalization is to understand the big picture of what the customer is trying to accomplish across brands and meeting them where they’re at and helping them achieve their desires with the least amount of friction possible.

“A brand strategy is what you are about, a marketing strategy is what you do to acquire and attract, but a personalization strategy is what you do to keep customers for life.” – Mike Gonzalez

Personalization is the management of the relationship your customer has with your brand.

Without personalization, customers’ aspirations are unknown. There is no way to identify their goals, their reason for using your product, or where your process might cause unnecessary friction.

A prime example of no personalization is when you might purchase something online as a guest without creating an account. You are required to start from scratch every time you choose to buy. None of your billing information or order history is saved. Engaged customers want to develop a relationship with you. A Personalization strategy is a bridge to starting one.

The Three levels of personalization.

L1: Identify the customer.

In Level 1, Personalization is the common practice of getting your customers to register and create an account. We’ve all seen and are familiar with this. If you want to use Instagram, Pinterest, or eBay, you are required to create a user profile. In most cases, you’re not required to use your real name. All you need is a username. Whatever information you add to the profile is what the brand explicitly learns and remembers.

L2: Build a general ledger about the customer.

In Level 2, Personalization is a step above L1 because your profile often contains personal information. It helps the service remember your real name, your payment information, your mailing address, your email address, purchase history, and a record of your interactions. The goal of L2 personalization is to reduce the number of steps to complete a transaction.

L3: Implicitly Understand, Empathize, and Serve.

In Level 3 Personalization, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and real-time customer behavior are tracked and analyzed. This is where the product or service is implicitly learning from your behavior. Every time you interact with the product or service, you are actively training an algorithm to understand your tastes and your behavioral patterns to make predictions on what you might want to do next. This helps the company (empathize) and serve you by presenting the right actions at the right time.

Everyone wants personalization (on one condition.)

Most of the general population in the millennial age group want Level 3 Personalization. But there is a catch. They want to be control of the information you collect and determine how it is used while using your product or service. With the growing concerns over privacy and recent regulation on the use of personal information, it’s important now more than ever to have a personalization strategy for your organization to keep you compliant while meeting the demands and expectations of your customers.

How does personalization affect the bottom line? What is the ROI?

Customers want the brands they love to understand what they want, what they’re interested in, and what they believe (both about themselves and the world).

A personalization strategy does 3 things:

  1. It increases customer/audience engagement.
  2. It reduces friction in the experience. 
  3. It drives retention.

1. Increase Engagement

Netflix, Amazon, Spotify, and Youtube understand that their customers want a personalized experience when they interact with their products. Giving a customer direction through recommended content, or knowing the right time of the day to remind them about something meaningful to the customer on their terms directly increases engagement.

2. Reduce Friction

Personalization is a disarming, familiar experience for the customer. When things are personalized, it reduces the anxiety of the unknown and the unexpected from the customer’s mind. It helps the customer bring their walls down and to be themselves.

3. Drive Retention

Personalization builds trust. It creates a common ground between you and the customer. This is what drives retention. It enables you to make recommendations on the next steps that are in alignment with the customer’s hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

How do I create a personalization strategy?

There are 4 things every brand needs to retain customers for life. A Persona, A Journey, The Ecosystem and A Transparency Plan:

1. You need to know your customer’s persona.
Customer personas create clarity around who the customer is, what they like, and why they like it. 

2. You need to know your customer’s journey.
What path did they take to arrive here? What were they doing before they crossed paths?

3. You need to know your customer’s ecosystem.
What positive or negative experiences are they comparing your product or service to? 
What is normal in their world? What is unreasonable? 
What is accessible at their fingertips? And what is way out of their comfort zone?

4. You need a Transparency plan.
A transparency plan is a method in which you present the information you know about the customer in a place where they can decide what they share about themselves and how it is used. It is also a set of standards you, as an organization, maintain and adhere to that provide the highest level of privacy and trust.

I’ll put all of these together in a recent experience I had. The other day I received a letter in the mail from my mortgage company telling me that one piece of information on my homeowner’s insurance policy didn’t match the information on my mortgage documents. So I had to set aside time to call a 1-800 number, follow the automated prompts to verify my identity, sit on hold, explain my problem to a representative, sit on hold again, and then finally receive instructions on how to solve the problem.

I was told to physically visit my local post office, stand in line, ask for verification of information, have a postal worker write a formal letter, with the verified information, and then FAX the information to my mortgage company’s fax line.

The mortgage company failed to understand my persona, my journey map, and my ecosystem. Had they known these things, they would have realized that email would have been the best way to contact me about the issue. That email could have contained a link to login to the dashboard that I already use to pay my mortgage and a button that takes me directly to the area to “update” my information. This would have saved me hours of wasted time and frustration.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some good examples of how you’ve seen personalization utilized in the products and services you interact with?

If you would like help with getting started with your brand’s personalization strategy, visit askmikegonzalez.com  to schedule a call.