When it’s done well, real-time web personalization can help you convert more people into customers. They will be more informed and, therefore, more trusting of you, and will have a much better understanding of your product.

However, when it’s done poorly, it can really give someone the creeps. 

If messaging gets too personal, people can get turned off. 

Be Relevant Yet Open Minded

Your deeply driven desire to appeal as directly to your customer as possible is pushing you to create dynamic messages based on what you know about them. Without a strategy in place, this can go bad and it can get creepy. 

Here are some marketing practices that should be avoided.

Failing to develop a trustworthy presence

If you want people to buy your product or sign up for your service, you need to look trustworthy. There are three ways to build a trustworthy web presence:

  • Show you have a good reputation you can show how many people you have served, mentions you’ve earned in the press, testimonials from happy customers, awards you’ve received or how many years of experience you have.
  • Offer a free trial to make people more comfortable with giving you a try.
  • Show that your website is safe and secure by displaying your security seal on your homepage.

Show you know too much about a customer

You might think this is impossible, but mega-retailer Target learned the dangers of this the hard way. 

Forbes reported on Target’s big data practices:

“Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number, tied to their credit card, name, or email address that becomes a bucket that stores a history of everything they’ve bought and any demographic information Target has collected from them or bought from other sources.”

This strategy has made Target freakishly accurate about who you are and what you need. In fact, it’s so good it can know what you need before those closest to you do.

That’s what got them in trouble.

The Forbes article notes that Target’s system helped the company figure out a teenager was pregnant before her parents knew. 

Target statistician Andrew Pole said:

“If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable … We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”

I’d tend to agree with him.

Making uncomfortable emotional appeals

Marketo’s Caroline Ruggiero shared an experience she had where a business profiled her, offered personalized content, but freaked her out.

Caroline is a dog lover and a company she did business with knew that. They sent her an email and the interaction started well, but quickly went downhill. Here’s how she tells the story:

“The CTA (Call to Action) on the piece was written from my dog’s perspective and said ‘Help me Live Longer, Love Ziggy’ and ‘Can you help me walk like a pup again?.’ Grade: Thumbs down marketer! Reminding me of the mortality of my dog is probably the creepiest use of customer data and dynamic content copy I’ve ever come across.?”

Our goal as marketers should be to trigger emotional responses when appropriate, but we shouldn’t try to depress our sadden our customers and prospects in this way.

Not understanding customer intent

One of Urban Outfitters marketing executives had a thought:

“If you could just stop marketing dresses to men, it would be amazing.”

The problem was that the gendering profiling didn’t work for them because the people who frequently bought men’s clothing were women shopping for men. Their system wasn’t able to adapt for that.

It’s important that you collect enough data to understand customer intent because, without this level of understanding, you will end up annoying more people than you help.

Being relevant, but open minded means that you are able to increase the relevance of what your customer see without making them uncomfortable. These are some examples of web personalization strategies that failed. It’s time to explore personalization strategies that work.

Segment Customers Accordingly

The first step to developing any web personalization strategy is segmenting your customers accordingly. 

There are eight common ways to segment your customers for the purpose of web personalization: 

  • Demographics - things like age, gender, the city where someone lives
  • Firmographics - if you sell to businesses, know the demographics of the firm
  • Past behavior - is there a blog post they read, ebook they downloaded or a certain social network they found you through
  • Past product purchases
  • Beliefs
  • Related contacts in their network
  • Know which users that return are the most engaged while on your site.
  • Separate new users from returning users

Generally, the segments don’t work well in isolation (don’t forget the Urban Outfitter example). 

Use these segments in concert with one another. For example, combine demographics with past behavior and past purchase history to better understand the customer. 

Once you’ve successfully segmented users and found meaningful patterns, you need to move to the next step - creating custom, compelling content based on the patterns you’ve spotted.

People Love Customized, Compelling Content

I always find the easiest way to proceed after segmenting my customer database is to group the data to ensure I understand intent and then consider each grouping a ‘persona’. Considering these groups personas makes creating personalized content for each group much easier. 

Obviously, I can’t tell you what to write for each segment. But, what I can do is tell you the places I’ve found success offering custom content.

Here are the six places where inserting custom content has produced the best results for me.

1. Calls-to-action

Every page on your website needs calls-to-action. More importantly, every page needs relevant, targeted calls-to-action to increase the number of people who take the desired action. You need to know if you’re showing your customers calls-to-action that they’ve already refused to use and you need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

2. Images

If segmentation showed your client base was mainly composed of people in specific sectors, show sector specific images. After all, why show pictures of plummers if your customers are graphic designers?

3. Text blocks

Offering customized messages in specific areas of your website will make each page web page visited even more relevant (just don’t remind people of their pet’s mortality or predict they’re pregnant). Offering personalized text on landing pages is an especially effective way to increase your conversion rate and get more people to give your product or service a try.

3. Email segmentation

I’m assuming you try and grab the emails of the people who visit your site. If you have email addresses in your database, it’s time to take the segments you developed above and start using specific, personalized email messages to reach out to your customers and prospects. 

Ensure the message and images in the email are relevant and make sure there’s a call-to-action in the email that’s a good match for the persona being targeted.

4. Reach into the real world

Use the data you collect on your customers and prospects to empower your sales force as well. Producing customized sales collateral for your sales team will help the do their job more effectively and will ensure a better overall customer experience.

Web personalization can be a powerful tool that gives you an edge on your competition, but you need to do it right. Don’t freak people out, don’t make uncomfortable emotional appeals and don’t predict very personal moments. Instead, focus on the areas I outlined above and you will be able to craft a successful personalization strategy to appeal to your customers.

These are the tactics I’ve employed in my marketing strategies, but I certainly haven’t tried everything. Let me know if you’ve tried to offer real-time personalization. If you were successful, have you tried anything that wasn’t touched on in this post?