Moving Beyond the What to the How: The Importance of Operationalizing Personalization

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Moving Beyond the What to the How: The Importance of Operationalizing Personalization

September 19, 2018 by

Most of the time, the question that comes naturally after “what should I do?” is “how should I do it?”

It applies to many areas of life. If the question you’re facing is “what should I do this weekend?” you may answer “visit my parents.” After you’ve answered that question, you have to answer the next one: “how will I accomplish this plan?” Will you drive or take a train? Can you leave early from work on Friday, or do you need to plan around rush hour traffic? Essentially, once you’ve worked out the what, you need to address the how.

Last week, Evergage hosted the 5th annual Personalization Summit, the theme for which was “Realizing the One-to-One Dream.” In the last two years of my experience at this event, many of the conversations and sessions have centered around the what of personalization. What can personalization do to enhance my customer experience or marketing efforts? What does effective personalization look like? What should my organization’s personalization strategy look like? Those topics played a major role in this year’s event as well.

But this year, many of the conversations trended toward asking the natural next question of how to deliver personalization effectively. A central theme was around the importance of establishing the right process behind the scenes. If you don’t have the right process, you’ll never achieve the success you’re looking for.

Behind the Scenes of Personalization

During the opening keynote of the event, Andrew Flanagan of Lenovo commented that when his company first got started with personalization, it was trying to “borrow time” from other teams to get personalization campaigns off the ground. If Andrew and his team needed help from the design or IT department, for example, they needed to ask for help from those teams. But those teams weren’t involved in the process from the beginning and they weren’t incentivized to help with personalization. As a result, routinely asking them for help on an ad hoc basis wasn’t sustainable.

Dennis White of Citrix made a very similar point. He realized that personalization is a cross-departmental initiative. If getting involved in the planning or executing of personalization campaigns didn’t fall within each department’s top five goals, then they wouldn’t be inclined to participate. He warned that if each of your departments isn’t on the same page about the importance of personalization, then your program won’t get off the ground.

Further addressing this topic, there was a whole session that consisted of leading marketers describing how their teams implement personalization. In that session, we learned that Rue La La often sets quarterly goals to meet its personalization objectives. Dell has established a shared sense of accountability for business results across all teams and has mapped out key milestones to hit along the way. Fidelity is similarly focused on finding those small wins so the team can regularly celebrate victories and stay motivated. Ultimately, each company is striving to establish a repeatable process in a way that makes sense for their unique organizational structures and cultures.

Moving from the What to the How

Typically, when we share personalization successes, we share the business results and the relevant customer experiences the company was able to create. But these stories that highlight successful behind-the-scenes processes are fascinating as well. Why is now the time that we’re ready to move from the “what” to the “how”?

I think the reason for that is clear. Over the last several years, personalization as a concept has cropped up everywhere. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’re all aware of the value of treating customers and prospects like the unique individuals they are. Marketers have been striving to deliver that type of one-to-one communication for years. But the barrier in those years has been the technology driving it — it just wasn’t ready to support that vision. But today, technology is no longer standing in the way. Instead, the barrier is more often a company’s own internal structures and processes.

As we’ve been talking about the “what” of personalization for the last several years at The Personalization Summit (just like at other marketing conferences around the world), marketers have been working to roll out personalization programs in their own organizations. They’ve heard the success stories, they’ve researched the technology, and they know what’s possible. But as Jonathan Davies of Fidelity mentioned in his panel session at The Personalization Summit, personalization is a business practice tied to real business results. The technology behind it isn’t just a fun tool his team can play with. Ultimately, we’re talking about something critical to any company’s business performance: the customer experience. No single team owns that. In most companies (large and small) more than one person will be involved in the strategy and execution of the customer experience. And as you add more people to anything — from trying to decide where to go out to dinner to executing a new business strategy — the more complicated it becomes.

Final Thoughts

In order to deliver a company-wide customer experience that has personalization at its core, you need a real strategy. You need a process. Each person involved needs to know his or her role, and have a real stake in the outcome. Without those things, personalization will never gain enough traction and runs the risk of falling by the wayside.

This concept has certainly been a component of each Personalization Summit, but it was clearly a much more pressing issue for marketers this year than ever before.

To learn more about how Evergage can partner with you to not only figure out what personalization looks like for your organization, but how to achieve that vision, request a demo today.

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